The list of herbaceous ornamentals that have year-round interest is a limited one. Many perennials, and certainly most annuals, are reduced to mush after a few hard freezes. Ornamental grasses as a class of perennials, however, are exactly the opposite. Instead of suffering the cellular damage from frost, most of these grasses simply die, dry out, and remain as structural elements in the winter garden.
One of top performing grasses in our home landscape is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, one of the many Maiden Grass cultivars on the market today. The arching stems and leaves of ‘Gracillimus’ grow to 4-5 feet, with the flowers and seed heads rising another 12-18 inches above the foliage by late summer.
All of the ‘Gracillimus’ in our landscape came from four small plugs received bareroot via mail order six or seven years ago. Through regular division, we now feature at least 10 clumps of throughout the yard, and have given several divisions away to friends.
The airy flowers of ‘Gracillimus’ arrive in late summer, and turn a reddish-bronze as they mature.
As autumn progresses, the foliage takes on the same bronze color, eventually turning a light tan for the winter.
Maintenance of this grass involves cutting back to about four inches off the ground in early spring before the new growth emerges. Spring time is the least showy time of the year for ‘Gracillimus’, as it is grows slowly early in the season. For this reason, we try to plant bulbs or other spring blooming plants near ‘Gracillimus’ so that the hole in the landscape isn’t as dramatic after we remove last year’s foliage and seed heads.
We’ve tried this grass in almost every location of our garden, and it underperforms in shade and dry conditions. Give enough water and sun, though, and you have a top performer on your hands that will last many years, given regular divisions and replanting.