Maiden grass, also commonly known as Chinese silvergrass, is a tall ornamental grass with a graceful arching form and coppery flower heads in early fall that transform into silvery white plumes for seasonal interest. Maiden grass grows best in warm weather conditions and requires full sunlight, moist neutral to acidic soil. It's a slow grower, only growing about a foot in its first year, but by its third year, it may have a growth spurt. It can be planted in the spring or fall, although spring is preferred to give the plant ample time to establish its root system before winter.
|Common Name||Maiden grass, Japanese silvergrass, Chinese silvergrass, eulalia|
|Botanical Name||Miscanthus sinensis|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||4-12 ft. tall, 4-6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral, acidic|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Hardiness Zones||5-9 (USDA)|
Maiden Grass Care
Here are the main care requirements for growing maiden grass.
- Plant maiden grass around water features, but as a safety measure, avoid planting it if you live in a region where wildfires are a notable danger.
- Ensure that the ground is evenly moist when the plant is young. Once established, it is a drought-tolerant ornamental grass.
- Plant in well-drained soil. It can be accepting of clay soil.
The U.S. Forest Service reports that Miscanthus sinensis is an invasive plant in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast states, including Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Maiden grass enjoys bright sunlight, with about six hours of direct light a day, but can handle some shade.
The grass grows in many soil types though it prefers organic and well-drained matter. Maiden grass can tolerate excessive moisture and droughts. It can grow in sand and salty environments, so it is commonly used in coastal landscaping.
After the first planting, maiden grass must be thoroughly soaked to strengthen its roots. Water at the root level to prevent plant rust, which occurs when leaves are burdened with water. Maiden grass needs to be watered approximately two to three days a week in its first year—about an inch per week. Once established, it can sustain itself throughout normal weather conditions, only needing extra care during drought or severe heat periods. This plant is best watered at the soil line, using drip irrigation.
Temperature and Humidity
Maiden grass enjoys warm weather and thrives in southern regions with temperatures that can reach 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it can also withstand winter temperatures since it's cold-hardy.
The grass works efficiently with its water supply, usually requiring no help from fertilizer and pesticides. Instead, plant it using organic soil enriched with manure and compost.
Types of Maiden Grass
There are many types of Miscanthus sinensis. The following are prized for their variegated foliage:
- Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'): Horizontal golden bands, arching form
- Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus'): Horizontal yellow bands, erect form (think of the rigidity of a porcupine's quills)
- Variegated Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'): Vertical white stripes along the edges, arching form
To keep your maiden grass healthy, clip it back in the late winter/early spring before new growth appears. Loosely secure the top with rope and cut 3 inches from the ground using hedge clippers. Be sure to wear long sleeves and heavy gardening gloves since the plants are relatively sharp. Prune off the flower heads before they go to seed if you do not want your plants to self-sow and grow indiscriminately in your landscaping.
Propagating Maiden Grass
The best way to propagate maiden grass is through division in the early spring before new growth comes in. Divide your maiden grass every three years to reenergize its growth. You will notice that the center might start dying out—a clear sign it's time to divide. Before you divide, cut the foliage down to 3 inches above ground level in late winter or early spring to make room for the new shoots. Here's how to divide maiden grass:
- The only tool you need is a pointed shovel or spade.
- Dig around the rhizomatous root ball of the plant deeply until you are under the root ball. Dig in a circle around the plant and hoist up the entire root ball. Depending on your plant's size, it may be heavy, and you may need assistance.
- Plunge a sharp shovel edge into the root ball, splitting it in half. Divide the halves in half, if possible.
- Plant each as a new plant at least 3 to 6 feet apart. Maiden grass needs its room since clumps get large. Drench with water.
How to Grow Maiden Grass from Seed
To grow maiden grass by seeds, start them indoors in early spring. Here's how:
- Fill a planting tray with potting soil and press one to two seeds onto the soil.
- Do not cover the seeds with soil. The seeds need light to germinate.
- Keep the soil aerated and moist.
- Situate the tray in a warm, sunny space with temperatures above 60 degrees.
- Seeds should sprout within two to three weeks. If your outdoor soil is warm and there is no threat of frost, transplant the seed outdoors; the seed needs warm soil to survive.
Leave dead grass stalks to wave in the breeze during winter dormancy. The stalks serve as a mulch, protecting the plant's crown underground. Also, the waving grass makes a wonderful winter scene, especially after a snowfall.
Common Plant Diseases
Maiden grass is not susceptible to pests or many diseases, except for rust, a fungus spread by spores. Rust occurs when water splashes onto the leaves. It helps to water the grass at the base only, not from overhead.
How to Get Maiden Grass to Bloom
Maiden grass has copper-colored plumes in late summer that turn silvery white (with seedheads) for the fall and winter.
What do Maiden Grass Flowers Look and Smell Like?
The flowers of maiden grass are like wispy plumes and they do not have a scent. They are feathery and rust-colored, changing colors as they age to silver-toned. In fall and winter, the fluffy flower head is composed of tiny flowers clustered at the end of the flower stalk.
How to Encourage More Blooms
If you are having problems with your maiden grass flowering, it's likely due to an unusual summer or wet winter. Maiden grass flowers best after a hot, sunny period. Also, a wet winter with soggy soil can cause the rhizome to rot, and ultimately, die. To avoid problems with flowering, you can amend the soil, adding grit or sand to help it drain. Also, if you can relocate the plant to the sunniest spot, it'll have a better chance of flowering.
Deadheading Maiden Grass Flowers
Beware if you leave the flower heads intact, the plant may self-sow. The seed heads develop at the ends of the flower stalks in late summer and fall, lasting through winter and into early spring.
Common Problems With Maiden Grass
Maiden grass is an easy-growing plant once it's established. It takes about one year to mature, but once it does, it doesn't require a lot of water, nutrients, or anything other than well-draining soil and plenty of sun.
Maiden Grass Turning Brown
Browning of the tips of the grass is a common sign of the plant entering dormancy. As the daylight shortens, it signals that it's time for the plant to start dying back. It's normal and expected. However, if the browning is happening during the regular growing season, make sure you are not overwatering or overfertilizing. Well-established, mature maiden grass does not need much of either.
Center of Plant Is Dying
When the center of an ornamental grass starts to appear like it's dying, it's signaling to you that it wants to be dug up. Pull it up, divide the rhizome in half or quarters, and turn one plant into four. Every three to four years, it needs to be divided to reinvigorate its growth.
Stunted Growth With Twisty Stems
Maiden grass grows very slowly; however, if you notice it's particularly slow going and you notice yellowing and twisting of the stems, you may have miscanthus mealybugs. Miscanthus mealybugs may be hard to notice and eradicate, hiding within the plant's stems, crown, or roots. The bug colony looks like a white, powdery, waxy material. and little bug droppings are a telltale sign. Purple spots on infected stems are another clear sign. To get rid of an infestation, you will likely need to use a pesticide. Try an insecticidal soap if can you catch it early enough.
How long can maiden grass live?
It can live for 15 to 20 years with the right care and conditions, as long as you divide it every few years.
Does maiden grass come back every year?
Yes, maiden grass is a perennial plant.
Does maiden grass like full sun?
It will grow best in full sun.
How tall is maiden grass?
Its mature height will be about 8 feet.
Does maiden grass need to be cut back?
The grass is attractive in the winter so if you do want to cut it back, do so in the late winter or early spring. Cut it back to within 3 inches of the ground, but do not cut it flush to the ground.
Miscanthus sinensis. The U.S. Forest Service.