Name: Silver grass, Chinese grass, miscanthus, elephant grass or flame grass.

Botanical name: Miscanthus sinensis is the botanical name for Chinese silver grass. The first part of the name is composed of the Greek words mischos and anthos, mischos means a stem and the second part means a flower, so stem flower. The second part of the name means from China, where many species are native.

Family: Miscanthus is part of the grass family, the Poaceae, Poa annua being the annual meadow grass that is present as a weed in so many gardens.

Garden value

Miscanthus is a wonderful addition to the garden because it is decorative for many months. In summer it sends up its fine slightly arching foliage in a tall tuft. It flowers in late summer and early autumn and the flower heads are soft and feathery, and also slightly arching.

In late autumn, the leaves turn to shades of yellow, orange and red and, in winter, the seed-heads and leaves become more straw-like and last right through to spring when the foliage can be tidied up.

Although now very popular, until a couple of decades ago, there were mostly just two miscanthus varieties available.

‘Zebrina’ has a yellow stripe along the length of the leaves, but this kind rarely flowers and its value is simply down to its golden leaf colour.

‘Gracillimus’ is a moderate grower with very pretty curling leaves, popular for flower arranging. But also it rarely flowers, only occasionally after a warm summer, and even then producing just a couple of flower heads.

A range of named varieties have appeared in recent years. Most of them were bred many years ago in Germany and their ability to cope with cold winters there indicates how hardy they are.

‘Silberfeder’ is free-flowering with tall stems to over two metres and feathery flowers in silvery pink and pale brown. ‘Rotsilber’ is about 1.2metres tall with reddish silvery flowers in late summer and into autumn. The flowers become more light and silvery as they age. ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ is smallish with spidery red flowers that turn silvery.

‘Yakushima Dwarf’ is only one metre tall with silvery flowers in autumn. It is fine in a small garden, but the slightly taller ones look better and give more movement where there is more space. ‘Ferner Osten’ has soft fine, white feathery plumes with very good orange and yellow autumn colour. ‘Malepartus’ has upright plumes in beige colour.

Growing miscanthus

Miscanthus is easy to grow and likes full sunshine in an open position. It will flower less or not at all in a shaded spot, and eventually dies if fully shaded. It does not need rich soil but the ground should not be too poor or the plant will be stunted and miserable in appearance. It must have good drainage, though not be too dry but definitely not waterlogged in winter.

Miscanthus should be planted in spring and lifted and divided only at the start of growth and not in the autumn with months of wet soil ahead.

KITCHEN GARDEN: Growing rhubarb

Rhubarb sprout. \Gerry Daly

Rhubarb is one of a small number of perennial garden vegetables. Globe artichokes, asparagus, seakale and Jerusalem artichokes are some others.

Rhubarb needs rich fertile soil which is well-drained and well supplied with organic material. It does very badly in the shade of trees.

The main variety used is ‘Timperley Early’, an early-sprouting variety with red stalks and green flesh. Rhubarb can be raised from seeds but the usual way to propagate plants is to split an existing plant. It is best to have two or three buds on a piece for planting as it will give a crop sooner.

Planting is normally done when the plant is dormant in winter, or in growth from pots. The ground for rhubarb should be dug over incorporating some well-rotted manure or compost. Make sure to remove all perennial weeds and ensure there is enough space for the plants to grow. Each stool needs about 1.5 metres from the next or from other plants such as fruit bushes. Rhubarb needs very little effort to maintain, but weed control must be kept up. Feed with a thick layer of organic material. The plants are given a year to establish before picking the first leaves. Rhubarb can be blanched to produce stalks with red colour.

This week’s reminders

Trees, shrubs and roses

Planting of deciduous trees and shrubs and bare-root plants, hedging, shelter trees and garden woodland is now underway. It is also a good time to move deciduous trees or shrubs. However, it has been very wet and planting can be delayed until conditions have improved, or plant on a raised mound. Prune roses if they have finished.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Fruit trees and bushes can be planted now, using freshly lifted plants that take root much better. Continue to tidy the vegetable garden and make sure to control weeds, not letting them to grow on over winter. Turn a compost heap that has been standing for a couple of months or at least tidy up the sides.


If the weather is dry enough, the lawn should be mowed but only if the ground is not soggy. Alternatively, trim the edges to make the lawn look neater. Grass growth has been quite active and mowing should continue as long as possible. Sulphate of iron or other moss control agents should be applied if there is a lot of moss.


It is not too late to plant up spring bedding plants and winter containers. These can be very effective when located close to a front door or gateway. The weather has been too wet at periods for lifting, dividing and re-planting of perennial flowers. This can continue in the coming week, if the ground is not sticky.

Greenhouse and house plants

Ensure that you are not over-watering house plants and allowing them to stand in a saucer of water. The roots will rot now that growth has markedly declined. Make sure too that the plants are not too close to a source of heat such as a radiator or open fire. Discontinue feeding of house plants. Only water plants still in growth.

Read more

Gardening with Gerry: the beauty of incense bush

Gardening with Gerry: a pop of late autumn colour