How to Grow and Care for Maiden Grass

maiden grass

The Spruce / K. Dave

Maiden grass is a tall ornamental grass that is worth growing for its graceful arching form alone. But it boasts other desirable features, including coppery flower heads in early fall that transform into silvery white plumes. It's a slow grower, only growing about a foot in its first year, but by its third year, it may get up to 8 feet tall. 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.

The stems of this clump-forming plant redden in the fall. A silver stripe runs up the middle of the sword-like green leaves. While the leaves are yellow somewhat by mid-fall and fade to a beige in winter, they are still colorful enough to provide much-needed winter interest. Maiden grass is an invasive species in many mid-Atlantic and southeastern states in the U.S.

Common Name Miscanthus sinensis
Botanical Name Japanese silvergrass, Chinese silvergrass, eulalia, maiden grass
Family Poaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous; ornamental grass
Mature Size 3 to 8 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Late summer, fall, winter
Flower Color Coppery-reddish, silvery
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

Maiden Grass Care

Maiden grass can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. It will grow best in full sun and needs evenly moist ground when young. Although accepting of clay soil, it will perform better in well-drained soil. Once established, it is a drought-tolerant ornamental grass that is easy to care for, providing months of color and texture to the landscape. Since it prefers soil on the moist side, consider using maiden grass around water features.

Also, deer resistant and not picky about the soil it grows in, it tends to grow invasively. It also doesn't seem susceptible to pests or many diseases, except for rust, a fungus spread by spores. It is not commonly grown as a container plant; however, it is sometimes used as a stunning companion plant in a combination planter of different plants. It is indigenous to Korea, China, and Japan.

Warning

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.

closeup of maiden grass

The Spruce / K. Dave

maiden grass used as mulch

The Spruce / K. Dave

maiden grass in front of a home

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

Light

Maiden grass enjoys bright sunlight, with about 6 hours of direct light a day, but can handle some shade.

Soil

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.

Water

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. It can also withstand winter temperatures.

Fertilizer

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

Pruning

To keep your maiden grass healthy, clip it back in the late winter/early spring before new growth appears. 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:

  1. The only tool you need is a pointed shovel or spade.
  2. 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.
  3. Plunge a sharp shovel edge into the root ball, splitting it in half. Divide the halves in half, if possible.
  4. 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. 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. It should sprout within two to three weeks. It needs warm soil to survive to maturity. For better in-ground success, it might be best to wait a year before trying to transplant it outdoors since it's such a slow grower. Or, you can attempt to transplant it outdoors about a month after it's germinated.

Overwintering

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 for some nice winter scenes, especially after a snowfall.

How to Get Maiden Grass to Bloom

The flowers of maiden grass are like wispy plumes. 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. The seed heads develop at the ends of the flower stalks in late summer and fall, lasting through winter and into early spring. Beware if you leave the flower heads intact, the plant may self-sow.

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 it to the sunniest spot, you'll have a better chance of flowering.

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. You can try an insecticidal soap if you catch it early enough.

FAQ
  • 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.

  • What is the difference between maiden grass and silvergrass?

    There is no difference between the two. Maiden grass is also known as Chinese silvergrass. Its other common names are miscanthus and eulalia.

  • What is an alternative to maiden grass since it's invasive in some places?

    A native alternative to maiden grass is switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Its root system is as deep as tall and is excellent for holding soil in place, preventing erosion caused by run-off and flooding.

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