Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) is a popular, clump-forming ornamental grass used to add a breezy, effortless elegance to gardens and landscapes. The grass boasts feathery plumed seed heads, which generally appear from late summer to early fall—and look good throughout the winter. The tall blades of the grass usually arch over gently, creating a pretty cascading effect that ripples in the wind.
Native to eastern Asia, Chinese silver grass is available in a wide variety of cultivars, each with varying heights and color shades, including silver, pink, purple, and red. It is best planted in the spring from root divisions or potted nursery plants and will grow very quickly. Some dwarf cultivars don't even reach 3 feet in height, but most are taller, with some growing over 10 feet tall.
|Common Name||Chinese silver grass, Japanese silver grass, eulalia grass|
|Botanical Name||Miscanthus sinensis|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||3–10 ft. tall, 3–6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Flower Color||White, pink, red, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||5–9 (USDA)|
Chinese Silver Grass Care
Chinese silver grass is a relatively hardy species that does well with minimal care, making it a great way to fill in your landscape or add visual interest to your garden with very little effort. While these versatile and easy-to-grow grasses make for a great garden focal point, they also work well as privacy screens, border plants, or as a hedging alternative.
These plants have minimal maintenance needs, though they do need to be cut back in the spring to make room for new growth. And these plants prefer consistent moisture, which means you will likely be watering them weekly unless your climate provides sufficient rainfall.
The pure species form, Miscanthus sinensis, is considered invasive in many states, especially the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachian regions. However, many of the named cultivars are bred to be sterile, and are safe to plant in your landscape.
Chinese silver grass prefers a position in full sun for optimal growth. Aim for a spot in your landscape that boasts at least six to eight hours of sunlight daily. While the plant can do well in partial shade (especially in hotter climates), it may experience less vigorous growth. Additionally, there's a chance that too little sun can make the grass overly floppy, dull in color, or result in a reduced amount of blooming.
You can grow Chinese silver grass in a variety of different soil types with great success. That said, the plant tends to prefer a blend that is fertile, moist, loamy, and, above all, well-draining. Soil that remains too wet or waterlogged after watering can lead to root rot, which can also impact growth. Chinese silver grass does best in a slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 5.5 to 7.5), but will tolerate a mild degree of alkalinity.
Chinese grass does best in soil that is consistently moist, but not waterlogged. Once the surface of the soil becomes dry, this is generally a good indicator that more water is required. Although it prefers moisture, the plant can handle periods of drought once fully established. Be careful about how you water; overhead pouring or spraying can have an impact on how effectively the water reaches the roots, and overly-wet blades can increase the chance of a fungal infection developing.
Temperature and Humidity
When dormant, Chinese silver grass is hardy down to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the plant is not suited to regions that are susceptible to late spring frosts, which can damage tender new growth. This plant may have a difficult time flowering in the colder end of its hardiness range.
If you're growing Chinese silver grass in its ideal soil type, there's a good chance it won't need any feeding at all. However, if you want to boost its growth and bloom potential after it's established, you can use an organic fertilizer once a month during the summer. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.
Types of Chinese Silver Grass
There are over 150 different cultivars of Chinese silver grass, and they can each vary greatly in their height, color and pattern. Some of the more popular varieties include:
- Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus': This cultivar grows easily, with purple plumes emerging in the winter. It can reach 6 feet tall, making it a good option for a larger space or privacy screen.
- M. sinensis 'Silberfeder': This cultivar is tall and best-suited to cooler climates. It can grow to 8 feet tall and boasts pinkish-silver plumes.
- M. sinensis 'Zebrinus': Also known as zebra grass, this variety adds a splash of unique interest to your garden, thanks to its eye-catching variegated foliage and pink plumes. Plants grow to as much as 7 feet tall.
- M. sinensis 'Strictus': This variety is particularly well-suited to growing near water features like ponds or lakes—it's more tolerant of wet soil conditions than most other cultivars. It has unusual stalks that are ringed with yellow, and grows to 7 feet.
- M. sinensis 'Morning Light': By some estimates, this award-winner is the best of the cultivars. It has a delightful vase-shaped form that rarely flops, even though it can grow to 6 feet tall. It is light green in color, with faint ivory variegation that makes the plant look silver from a distance.
- M. sinensis 'Yakushima Dwarf': This 3- to 4-foot-tall variety has silvery green stalks that support pinkish flower panicles. The fine texture sways in the faintest of breezes.
- M. sinensis 'Flamingo': This cultivar blooms slightly earlier than other varieties, with rose-pink flower plumes that gradually turn silvery-white by winter. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall.
- M. sinensis 'Little Kitten': This extremely compact plant grows to just 2 to 3 feet tall. It has graceful silvery-white flower blooms touched with reddish-pink.
Chinese silver grass is still attractive even when dormant in the winter, so it's best to wait until the early spring before you cut it back. Doing so is actually beneficial to the plant's overall health—it can help encourage vigorous new growth, as well as strong blooms.
If self-seeding is a problem, the plants can be cut back in the fall before the flower heads dry, but doing will sacrifice the winter display which is the reason many people plant Chinese silver grass.
Propagating Chinese Silver Grass
Root division works well if you plan to propagate new plants from a mature clump of Chinese silver grass. The process is best done in late spring after any danger of frost has passed. Here's how:
- Use a shovel to dig up the entire clump of grass. Using your hands or a trowel, divide the clumps into rhizome pieces, each with three or four growth eyes and a healthy portion of foliage.
- Replant the pieces in the desired location. Large divisions usually take well to being planted straight into their permanent position—they just need moist and fertile soil and plenty of sunlight. Make sure you have a decent amount of roots and foliage on your chosen clump—several shoots are needed to ensure success.
- If the division you're working with is on the smaller side, you may get better results if you start it off in a pot and grow it in partial shade. Then, once established, it can be planted out sometime during late spring or summer when it's a bit larger and hardier.
How to Grow Chinese Silver Grass From Seed
If you're looking to grow Chinese silver grass from seed, you're in luck—the germination process is actually pretty fast, and usually occurs within two weeks. In the fall, sow the seeds on the surface of a moist, fertile soil mixture. Keep the seeds covered in a greenhouse-like environment for their first winter. They can then be transplanted to their permanent position in late spring or early summer of the following year. Make sure to harden off the seedlings before planting in the garden. Keep in mind, it will take you a full year before the plants produce flowers.
When you transplant seedlings, allow enough space between the plants for spreading, as this is a wide, clump-forming species that can take up quite a bit of space. The amount of space needed will vary depending on the mature size of the cultivar you've selected.
Potting & Repotting Chinese Silver Grass
Container culture is possible for Chinese silver grass, though not common. When planted in pots, these tall grasses can be prone to blowing over in the wind, so if you choose to grow in a container, make sure to select a large, heavy pot, such as a concrete urn--but make sure the pot has drainage holes. Chinese silver grass will grow adequately in a well-draining pot filled with standard potting mix. Division and repotting will be necessary every year or two when this fast-growing plant becomes root-bound in its pot. Be prepared to water more frequently when growing Chinese silver grass in a container. Container-grown plants may also be somewhat less hardy than garden plants, as the roots are fairly exposed during the winter.
Chinese silver grass can be very attractive through the winter, especially when light snow falls onto the clumps. So the plants are generally left standing through the winter, then cut back in the spring to make way for new growth.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Chinese silver grass experiences no major issues with pests or disease, but in some regions, the plant can be plagued by mealybugs, which are difficult to treat because the pests dwell inside the stems. Spraying with a horticultural oil may offer some relief.
A particular fungal disease, miscanthus blight, can attack the grass blades. Another fungal disease, leaf rust, may also occur. Fungal diseases can be treated with systemic or spray fungicides,
How to Get Chinese Silver Grass to Bloom
The plume-like flower heads on Chinese silver grass usually bloom reliably in late summer to fall if the plants are grown in an appropriate sunny condition and consistently moist soil, though some cultivars bloom a little earlier. If your plants don't produce plentiful flower heads, try feeding them monthly with a balanced fertilizer through the summer.
Common Problems With Chinese Silver Grass
Chinese silver grass is a remarkably problem-free plant, but there are a handful of cultural problems to be aware of:
Clumps Become Sparse
Chinese silver grass is a remarkably trouble-free plant, but older clumps may get sparse and lose density when the roots become overgrown. The solution is an easy one: just dig up and divide the rhizomatous roots and replant to rejuvenate the colony.
Plants Spread Rampantly
Rampant spread can be a problem with Chinese silver grass, especially if you are growing the pure species plant rather than a named cultivar, many of which are bred to be sterile. Leaving the flower stalks in place through winter (a common practice) can lead to many hundreds of scattered seeds that will sprout up and create volunteer plants wherever they fall. Keep an eye on your plants and make sure to routinely pluck out volunteer seedlings that sprout up. If your plant becomes too much to handle, consider removing it and replacing it with a cultivar known to be sterile.
Plants that refuse to remain upright and flop in an undisciplined manner are probably not getting enough sunlight. Shady conditions cause excessively long, leggy growth as the stalks reach for sunlight.
How should I use this plant in the landscape?
Chinese silver grass is a versatile plant that works well planted individually as an accent plant, in small groups as a screening plant, as an edging plant for streams or ponds, or in naturalized meadow gardens. The flower stalks also keep well in cutting arrangements.
How long does Chinese silver grass live?
This plant will live for many decades, spreading gradually through expanding rhizomes. But clumps will gradually get sparse unless the rhizomes are dug up, divided, and replanted every few years.
Does this plant pose a fire hazard?
In regions where wildfires are a notable danger, large plantings of ornamental grasses such as Chinese silver grass are discouraged. Dried grasses can catch fire explosively if touched by flying embers. In such regions, if ornamental grasses are grown at all, it's standard practice to grow them in small, isolated clumps well separated from buildings and to cut them down before the start of the dry season.
Are there any other Miscanthus species I can consider?
Miscanthus is a large genus with several species that are common landscape plants. Some common species:
- Miscanthus sacchariflorus (silver banner grass) is another tall grass, growing to as much as 8 feet. It is somewhat coarser and less attrative than Chinese silver grass, but it has excellent tolerance for wet conditions and is sometimes used to stabilize banks around ponds and streams.
- Micanthus nepalensis (Himalayan fairy grass) is an unusual ornamental grass with very silky, elegant flower heads. It is hardy in zones 8 and 9, growing to 4 to 5 feet.
Is there a North American native grass that I can use instead of Chinese silver grass?
If you prefer native species over the possibly invasive Asian grasses, then consider planting Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem). Native to eastern North America and hardy in zones 3 to 9, this 2- to 4-foot native prairie grass has a very attractive bronze orange fall color.