Altogether, approximately 20 mainly deciduous species belong to the genus Chinaschilf (Miscanthus). The ornamental grass from the Himalayas, northern China and Japan reaches impressive heights of up to 3.50 metres depending on the species and belongs to the sweet grass family (Poaceae).
Numerous new varieties have been created through breeding in recent decades. Ernst Pagels, a perennial gardener from Leer in East Friesland, was in charge of this project – he bred well-known varieties such as ‘Gracillimus’ and ‘Silberfeder’ in his nursery. Particularly many varieties originate from the species Miscanthus sinensis, commonly known as Chinese reed.
Appearance and growth
With their fine flower panicles and high, upright growth, the species of Chinese reed are among the most striking plants in the perennial bed. As the name suggests, the giant china reed (Miscanthus x giganteus) grows the highest; the lowest species is the dwarf Chinese reed ‘Nanus Variegatus’ (Miscanthus oligostachyus) with a height between 40 and 60 centimetres.
The leaves of the Chinese reed are narrow, mostly dark green and often show a magnificent autumn colour. But there are also varieties with multicoloured, variegated foliage, for example the small zebra reed (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra’) or the Chinese reed ‘Strictus’ (Miscanthus sinensis). From August to October, most species and varieties of Chinese reed form fine flower panicles which, depending on the variety, sometimes grow upright, sometimes cascade-like or arch overhang. The colour varies from silvery white to silvery pink to red.
Location and soil
The ornamental grass thrives in all sunny borders and is very tolerant as far as the soil is concerned. Although it prefers soils with a good water supply, it can also cope with poor drainage and even temporary drought. The species of the Chinese reed are also impressive figures in the winter herbaceous bed and are not impressed by rain, heavy frost and snow. For example, the Chinese reed ‘Silver Feather’ (Miscanthus sinensis) simply straightens up again as soon as the snow load has been removed.
With its picturesque growth, Chinese reed is best suited for single planting in perennial beds. Smaller species such as the dwarf china reed ‘Adagio’ (Miscanthus sinensis) or the small zebra reed can also be planted in small groups or tubs. Since the Chinese reed blooms very late, it can be combined well with late blooming shrubs such as asters, water-east (Eupatorium), high fat hens (Sedum) or autumn anemones (Anemone japonica and Anemone hupehensis). Although it is actually an ornamental grass, particularly vigorous varieties of Chinese reed are now also cultivated extensively as biomass and fibre suppliers for industry.
The best planting month for Chinese reed is April. As the ornamental grasses can become very wide and their beautiful shape can be shown to advantage in the bed, they should be given sufficient space – one square metre is the minimum for the higher varieties.
Order Chinese reed in our online shop
In late winter or early spring the Chinese reed is cut back close to the ground. Since the individual stalks are very strong, it is best to use garden shears with a large leverage effect. One takes the stalks tufts in the hand and cuts them off. Always wear gloves so that you are not injured by the sharp-edged leaves of the plant.
In this video we show you how to cut Chinese reed correctly. Credit: Production: Folkert Siemens/ Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch
In spring you can divide the species and varieties of Chinese reed if they have become too big. Because of the dense root network, a very sharp spade is required.
As a pot or tub plant, Chinese reed needs some winter protection. In order to avoid ground cold, the bucket is placed on a polystyrene plate and wrapped with fleece. In the gardens one occasionally sees Chinese reed nests, which were tied together above. This measure is unnecessary as winter protection, because the grasses are completely frost hardy.
The division of the nests in spring is the most practicable propagation method. Sowing is also possible, but it takes longer for the plants to grow.
Diseases and pests
In rare cases, the grasses are attacked by the Miscanthus louse, which occurs mainly in North America. New varieties with variegated leaves, especially those with cross-striped leaves, are susceptible to sunburn on drier soils.