As the autumn sun softens, there’s a delicate movement in the air. The tall, ornamental grasses are in flower and their graceful swayings in the slightest of breezes are catching the light.
These ornamental grasses with masses of the tiniest of flowers on the end of long, arching stems add elegance and movement to your garden. With their spectacular, feathery plumes, these lovers of the soft sun add unexpected drama and powerful structure to your autumn/winter garden when so little else is happening.
There are more than 150 varieties of Miscanthis sinensis - or Japanese plume grass, Japanese pampas grass, maiden silver grass, zebra grass, porcupine grass – and they come in a variety of heights, leaf widths, leaf colours and flower plume colours. Adding a point of difference are the variegated leaves, or the plain green foliage changing to red, orange or bronze in autumn, and the colours of the plumes that range from pale silver, to beige/buff, to deep purple-red.v
We don’t generally think of flowers and grasses in the same breath, but all grasses produce flowers, although most are insignificant. This grass, however, has silky flowers that take your breath away with their erect and airy form and shimmering quality.
How your ornamental grasses grow
The buds emerge through the foliage on long arching stems - often rising to about two metres - with majestic grace in late summer when they shine and quiver with anticipation. Then the buds evolve into their miniature prettiness and full fluffiness in masses of delight in late autumn/early winter, and continue to provide a magnificent architectural display through winter as they sway above the decay beneath. This is especially so in frosty areas were the grasses’ sleeping foliage and old flower heads appear like ghosts through the misty air, waving in the wind.
Where to plant your ornamental grasses
These grasses have multiple decorative uses in your garden, such as:
- A focal point in a border
- A leafy relief in summer-flowering cottage gardens
- A repeat effect in various plant beds to unify your overall garden design
- A backdrop in perennial flower beds, where it comes into its own when the summer flowers have died
- Along borders, in small groups or as mass plantings
- A contrast to big, bold leaves or rounded shrubs
- A graceful feature by ponds or pools
- Coastal gardens
- Mixed with other ornamental grasses or leafy plants, to add variety to shape and texture
- As a small hedge or privacy screen
- A feature in pots or raised beds
- Cut as long-lasting indoor floral displays
About your ornamental grass
Most Miscanthus sinensis are round clumps, usually taller than wide (biggest being 2mx1.4m), with long leaves that cascade down like a fountain. The clumps become better and bigger as each year passes. Current cultivars do not seem to self-seed and, unlike other grasses, don’t produce runners.
After flowering, the plant goes dormant in winter but doesn’t obviously die back. It’s important in late winter to cut back the foliage and flowering stems quite low (10cm to 5cm, depending on the variety) to encourage new growth in spring.
They are generally pest and disease resistant.
Care for your ornamental grass
- Give them adequate space when they are young so they are not hemmed in and lose impact as they grow.
- They are incredibly hardy, but during long, hot, dry periods, they can do with watering. Feed with fertiliser high in nitrogen (for leaf development) and potassium (for flowering).
- They tolerate most soil types and prefer full sun in moist, well-drained soils but don’t mind partial shade.
- They are frost tolerant once established.
- They require little water once established.
- They are drought, salt, humidity and wind tolerant.
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