Ornamental grasses are hugely popular, but also avoided by some gardeners, who probably have memories of one invasive grass or another that they planted – and came to regret. It is true that grasses that spread, especially larger ones, should only be planted in larger gardens, where they can have room to develop without becoming a problem. That still leaves lots of beautiful grasses, though, that always stay where they are placed. If you have had a bad experience with an invasive grass, or if you are new to grass growing, take a close look at the Maiden Grasses. They are certainly among the most beautiful of all the ornamental grasses – never invasive and always striking and majestic.
5 Reasons to Grow Maiden Grasses
- Incredibly beautiful slender leaves in a tall, elegant clump
- Topped with large plumes of silvery-beige feathery flowers
- Graceful and easy to grow
- Some have unique horizontal variegation
- Cut flower plumes and dry them for indoors
Maiden Grass is one member of a larger group of grasses often called Silver Grass. This diverse group, called Miscanthus, does include some invasive grasses too, so the first thing to remember is to not just settle for anything that happens to be labelled Miscanthus. For example, Miscanthus sacchariflorus, often called Amur silver grass, is attractive, yes, growing between 5 and 8 feet tall, with waving silver panicles. But it is also invasive, especially in damp or wet soil, and it would be a bad choice for most gardens.
No, the Miscanthus you want is called Miscanthus sinensis, or Chinese silver grass. The name Maiden Grass is better, as it helps to distinguish it from the other less appealing silver grasses. You may hear that in some parts of the country it is ‘invasive’, but this is because of seed, not spreading roots. That is easily fixed by growing a variety like ‘Adagio’ or ‘Morning Light, that don’t set seed, or removing the flower spikes earlier, so that they don’t have a chance to develop mature seed.
Graceful Maiden Grass
A good place to start with our tour of the Maiden Grasses is with a widely-grown variety that forms clumps that are about 5 feet tall, reaching perhaps 8 feet when in flower. The leaves are among the thinnest of all the larger ornamental grasses, being no more than ½ inch wide, and usually closer to ¼ inch. They arch upwards and then over, like a silvery fountain, and they sway gracefully in the slightest breeze, sending out that alluring rustle, unique to grasses, when a slightly stronger breeze arrives. The flower spikes are purplish when young, turning silver as they mature, and a clump in bloom really is a supremely beautiful sight, full of grace and allure.
Adagio Maiden Grass
If you find an 8-foot grass a bit daunting, this is a variety that will be more to your liking. The leaves never rise above 4 feet, and the flower stalks rise another foot, just enough to make them showy, but not enough to overpower the space.
Morning Light Maiden Grass
For an even more graceful and sparkling look, this variety has a slender white line along either side of the leaf, which catches the light and gives this grass a wonderful illuminated look. It glows and shimmers in the sunlight, and a more elegant grass simply cannot be found.
Porcupine Grass/Zebra Grass
Don’t be put off by the name, as this variety of Maiden grass is not only unique, but very dramatic, and it becomes a striking feature wherever it is grown. There are many variegated grasses, with leaves in green and yellow or white, but this one is unique, because the bands of yellow are horizontal across the leaves, not vertical, as we normally see. These alternating bands of green and gold, multiplied on a clump of hundreds of leaves, makes for a striking and compelling plant. Called ‘Strictus’, this grass is very similar to ‘Zebrinus’, the Zebra grass. As its name suggests, Porcupine Grass is more upright, in a tighter clump, than Zebra grass is. If you don’t have room for a 5 to 6 feet clump, look out for ‘Little Zebra’, a special selection that grows just 3 or 4 feet tall, but with all the charm and unique variegation of its bigger brother.
Growing Tips for Maiden Grasses
The most important thing to know and remember about these grasses is that they only begin to grow in warmer weather. In spring they can be discouragingly ‘dead’ looking. To avoid big blank spaces in your spring garden, always plant something shorter and attractive in front, to look good until they sprout. Another idea is to plant spring bulbs around them – remember that you do need to allow a space up to 5 feet across, for their later leaf spread. You can have a great spring display with bulbs, and they will neatly disappear beneath the maiden grass once it begins to grow, typically in late May. Growth is fast, but in zone 4 particularly you may not get full development of the flower spikes, which may only emerge in September – still very worth growing for the foliage. Remember too that you should not try to move these grasses around before they start growing. This will usually kill them. Wait until the leaves are emerging strongly, and then do your re-locating.
What Do Maiden Grasses Need?
The needs of Maiden Grasses are simple – sunlight and well-drained soil of any type. They will enjoy plenty of water during the growing season, but in winter, especially in zone 4 and 5, wet soil can kill them, or cause weak growth the following year. Always plant in a higher area, or on the upper part of a slope in those colder zones. Although all are hardy in zone 5, only Adagio and Porcupine grass are reliable in zone 4, although Graceful Maiden Grass will normally be hardy if planted in a well-drained spot.
Although slow to start, you will be amazed at how quickly they move once growth begins. After that there is really nothing needed – they don’t blow down, they don’t get pests, and they don’t even need trimming more than once a year. In colder zones you can leave them up for the winter and enjoy the romantic look of snow and ice-crusted stems– in warmer ones they will often stay green until almost spring. A few moments spent cutting them down to a few inches tall either in fall or spring, and you are done all the maintenance needed for another year – wow, if all gardening was this easy!
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