Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) is a favorite among the ornamental grasses, and with good reason. It stands tall (with an arching form) as a green sentinel in your landscape all summer, then it puts out tiny white blooms, followed by seed head plumes that offer late-season visual interest. Zebra grass also has stunning variegated leaves with creamy golden stripes that cut horizontally across the otherwise green blades of grass. In early fall, more and more of a golden coloration creeps into the leaves. By late fall, the leaf color becomes more of a beige.
Zebra grass belongs to the Poaceae family of plants, making it a true grass. Its botanical name comes from the Greek mischos (meaning “stalk”) and the Greek anthos (meaning “flower”). Sinensis indicates the plant originated in China. The cultivar name ‘Zebrinus’ alludes to the stripes on the plant’s leaves, which are reminiscent of a zebra’s stripes.
Zebra grass has a moderate to fast growth rate and can be planted in spring or fall. However, in regions with early or severe winters, spring planting is recommended to give the grass sufficient time to develop in its first season. Depending on where you live, zebra grass can be an invasive plant, like many other alien plants that spread by means of underground rhizomes.
|Common Name||Zebra grass, maiden grass, Chinese silvergrass|
|Botanical Name||Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’|
|Plant Type||Ornamental grass|
|Mature Size||7 ft. tall, 3-5 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Chalk, clay, loam, sand|
|Bloom Time||Late summer|
|Flower Color||Silvery white|
|Hardiness Zones||5-9 (USDA)|
Zebra Grass Care
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ is a good option for low-maintenance landscaping and is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions. This is a large ornamental grass, attaining a mature height of up to 7 feet (measuring to the top of the plume; foliage will reach about 5 feet tall) with a spread of 3 to 5 feet. It can spread easily by rhizomes and can fill in areas quickly, so space them about 3 to 4 feet apart when planting. They are very easy to care for, as zebra plants are not only drought-resistant plants requiring very little water but are also resistant to most pests and diseases.
Allow for full light for maximum development. If the plant grows in too much shadow, the leaf blades may become floppy, but you can assist keep them upright with a stake or even a tomato cage.
Zebra grass prefers a soil pH that is roughly neutral. This grass produces best in moist soils or even boggy riparian edges.
Young zebra grass needs regular watering to get established, but a mature specimen will serve as a drought-tolerant ornamental grass.
Temperature and Humidity
Most warm-season ornamental grasses thrive in soil temperatures ranging from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and even higher air temperatures. Give this plant a western exposure in a protected spot or where cold does not pocket in chilly zones.
Fertilize with compost or good organic plant food in spring.
Types of Chinese Silvergrass
There are many varieties of Chinese silvergrass, including zebra grass. Among the varieties are:
- Micanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’: grows to be 5 to 6 feet tall, with purple flower plumes in the summer that turn silver in the colder months.
- Micanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’: grows 5 to 6 feet tall with rose-pink flower plumes in the summer that turn silvery white in the winter.
- Micanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’: This decorative grass, sometimes known as porcupine grass, grows 6 to 8 feet tall and has variegated leaves with pinkish-colored plumes.
- Micanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’: reaches up to 8 feet in height, with variegated leaves and pinkish-silver plumes that bloom in late summer and become white in the colder months.
Some gardeners like to leave the stalks in place during winter rather than cutting them. In this case, pruning can wait till late winter or early spring because these plants offer value for winter scenes. The dead stalks also act as a bit of mulch to protect the root system from winter’s chilling temperatures.
If you choose to remove the stalks early, leave 5 or 6 inches sticking out and clip the remaining 5 or 6 inches in late winter or early spring. The clump will not look its finest in early spring when it first begins to put forth new growth, and allowing the green shoots to emerge from that 5 or 6 inches of stubble will make the overall appearance even less appealing. Wait until late winter or early spring before shearing the stalks all the way down to ground level.
Propagating Zebra Grass
To propagate or revitalize the plant, you can divide it in the spring every few years right before or right after the grass blooms, or divide the grass clumps when the plant breaks dormancy. Keep in mind that it’s best to prune the zebra grass before propagating. Here’s how:
- Choose a healthy plant and dig it up with a sharp spade.
- Turn the plant on its side to reveal the roots.
- To remove the dirt, rinse the tangled mass of roots with water. This helps you to identify any damaged or unhealthy roots.
- Cut through the plant with the sharp tip of the shovel to split it (in half or even thirds, depending on the size of the clump).
- Cut off any bad roots with gardening shears.
- Replant the ornamental grass sections in the desired appropriate place and water.
Potting and Repotting Zebra Grass
Zebra grass may be cultivated in a container to create a beautiful display on any patio. Because it is in a container, it will need extra watering and should be fertilized in the spring. Plant it in a big container with drainage holes, fill it with potting soil, and water it. Just keep in mind that it will overflow the container in one season and will need to be split.
Landscaping Uses for Zebra Grass
You can make zebra grass a focal point by growing it in the middle of shorter plants. It makes a sufficiently bold statement to serve as a specimen plant. Alternatively, exploit its screening ability by planting it in hedges. The fine texture of its blades suggests using it in combination with coarser plants to create a contrast. A cottage garden will be enhanced by one or more clumps of zebra grass up against a wall or fence.
Because zebra grass is at its best in late summer and autumn, some gardeners choose to pair it with companion plants that are also at their best at that time of year, in order to create a display area with maximum visual appeal. Companion plants include the following:
- Chrysanthemum flowers
- Hardy hibiscus
- New England aster
Zebra grass is one of the deer-resistant ornamental grasses, so you do not have to worry about deer pests coming in and eating it.
Zebra Grass vs. Porcupine Grass
Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’), another famous tall ornamental grass, is related to zebra grass. Because they both have horizontal stripes, they seem extremely similar. However, zebra grass is more arching, while porcupine is more upright. You may readily recall the distinction by thinking of the cultivar name ‘Strictus’ as “standing strictly at attention.”
Depending on your perspective, zebra grass’s arching behavior might be a benefit or a burden. If you are a fan of opulence, you will find it elegant. However, if you want things nice and tidy, you will see it as floppy and untidy, maybe in need of a good staking.
Allow the brownish-colored shoots of your ornamental grass to grow until early spring, then cut them back. Not only do they look nice in the garden, but the stalks also shelter the root ball from the cold.
Zebra grass, like other ornamental grasses, requires sufficient air circulation and full sun to avoid fungus, such as powdery mildew or leaf blight. Any fungal illnesses may be avoided with careful care and management. Because of this, zebra grass is a popular landscaping plant for any flower garden.