The zebra grass or porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) is an ornamental grass variety of the silver china reed (Miscanthus sinensis), also called Japanese stalk blossom grass, and belongs like all Chinese reed species to the large family of sweet grasses (Poaceae). Porcupine grass is a historical variety, first described in 1896. The ornamental grass was imported from Japan. Zebrinus’ is one of many varieties of Miscanthus sinensis, all differing in texture, size, height and foliage colour.
The hardy variety ‘Zebrinus’ grows upright, relatively bushy and horny. After two to three years, it can reach a height of up to two metres and a diameter of up to one and a half metres. The very old variety tends towards overhanging, loose to falling apart growth and is therefore an eye-catcher in the garden.
The entire leaves are narrow and dark green. They have irregular yellowish horizontal stripes that are reminiscent of zebra crossings and have given the grass its name. The horizontal stripes only appear in the course of the vegetation period. In autumn, the porcupine grass is a delight with brownish-golden leaves.
The flowering season of zebra grass starts late in the season, and the flowers are rarely seen in this country at all. If so, then silvery-white and slightly felty flower panicles form from August onwards.
The zebra grass prefers sunny and warm locations, ideal are places in sunny herbaceous borders. It also grows in semi-shade, but the zebra crossings are less pronounced there.
Porcupine grass prefers fresh, nutrient-rich, well-ventilated soils, but can also cope with drought and light humidity. However, the ornamental grass does not get any waterlogging at all. When planting in tubs, make sure that they are large enough and have a good drainage layer.
Plant the zebra grass in spring, preferably in April or May. As the porcupine grass becomes very high, you should pay attention to a distance of 120 centimeters and plan no less than one square metre per specimen. Water the ornamental grass well after planting.
Zebra grass is extremely easy to care for and does not require any further fertilisation apart from the application of compost during planting. During longer dry periods you should water the ornamental grass regularly. Do not cut the stalks in autumn, as they are very decorative, especially in snow and frost, and give the garden structure even in the winter months. As a precaution, you can tie the stalks together in autumn so that they do not bend in stronger winds. Only in late spring can you cut back the grass close to the ground with large garden shears and gloves. By June/July the ornamental grass has already grown strongly again and has reached its final height.
Spring is also the best time to divide the porcupine grass. Use a sharp spade to cut off part of the rootstock and plant it in a new place in the garden.
The silver china reed ‘Zebrinus’ is a great eye-catcher and lends structure to shrub beds – best planted in the background because of its height. Due to its high growth, the striking porcupine grass is a popular solitary plant. In row planting a high and decorative privacy screen is created in the garden. Suitable partners are perennials such as autumn anemones and sun bride as well as yellow flowering plants whose flowers harmonise well with the zebra crossings. The zebra grass also blends perfectly into a pond planting. The eye-catching leaves of the grass are suitable as decorative cut foliage for flower arrangements or bouquets. But be careful: Wear gloves when cutting, as the blades are very sharp-edged.
The division in spring is the most common method of propagating ornamental grass. Since the zebra grass forms a very dense root network, this is best done with a sharp spade.
Diseases and pests
Zebra grass is usually a robust and resistant ornamental grass. Rarely does the Miscanthus louse appear. Too dry soils and prolonged exposure to sunlight occasionally lead to sunburn on the leaves.
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