Caring for ornamental zebra grass

Every year I post this statement on Facebook: "My zebra is dead!" Every year someone replies something like "OMG, I'm so sorry!" I always wonder 'what the heck do they think I'm raising out here?' lol Truth is, my Zebra grass lives a long and wonderful life every year. It's one of the main focus points in my large yard and is estimated to be about 20 years old.

Large clump of ornamental grass (zebra grass)

Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus') is a species of flowering plant in the grass family. It is an herbaceous perennial grass that grows up to 8 feet in height! It starts as a single stalk but spreads through underground rhizomes and grows into a dense clump. 

I have a few different varieties in my clump of grasses, but to simplify reading (and writing) this, I'm just going to refer to the whole thing as zebra grass for this post. The care is the same for most varieties anyway!

Caring for zebra grass

Ornamental grasses can be bought as plants from a nursery or home improvement store or started from seed. I have never started them from seed but I can tell you from experience that they will seed themselves! If you do start from seed you only need to plant a few per clump. Since it spreads outwards through underground rhizomes, it will only take a few years till you have a dense clump.

In the early spring it's sadly cut down and the stubs are raked to remove debris. It's lovingly watered and a few weeks later I always get excited when the first green shoots start to emerge. 

a perennial, Zebra grass dies off yearly

Through the growing season it provides shelter from Hawks and a playground for about 30 chickens and guineas. Seniors pose for their portraits in front of it. I hunt for guinea eggs in it. It provides shade from the summer sun and some shelter from the rains. It also hides the access for the backup septic tank.

They're different when green, but they turn exactly the same way in fall. They all have these pretty tops. terms are so technical, aren't they? lol I would love to transplant some out to the front driveway. Every year I say that but never get around to it. There are some random plants that have popped up on the edges of the woods that would be easy to move. I just never know when I should do it.

I guess it's time to brush up on my Zebra grass knowledge and get moving on that. After all, if I can learn how to prune Weeping Cherry trees and grapevines I can certainly learn how to transplant ornamental grass plants. Right?

Zebra grass tops

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Summary: Buying ornamental grasses from a nursery can be an expensive venture, especially if you want a large planting.  This article explains how easy it is to divide and grow ornamental grass plants to beautify your landscape.

Ornamental grasses have become extremely popular in the past ten years or so, and if you buy them at a garden center they are kind of pricey. Learning how to grow them yourself is actually quite easy. 

Propagating zebra grass

The easiest and most effective way to propagate these ornamental grasses is through simple division. You will need at least one parent plant of each variety that you would like to grow. You can start them from seed and allow them to grow for about a year or buy some in 4” or larger pots. 

The best time of the year to divide them is in the spring, just before the new growth emerges. When spring arrives you can divide them at any time as long as they are not well into putting on new growth. The earlier the better. To divide them simply dig up the root mass and start dividing it into pieces. 

The divisions do not have to be to be very large. It’s difficult to describe, but as long as you have some roots, the new plant is likely to grow. I try to make my clumps about 3" across.

If you have small young plants you can probably just tear the root mass apart with your hands, but if the root mass is very big then you are going to need some tools. The larger and older the clumps are, the harder they are to divide! The root mass on older plants is often much larger and more dense than you'll expect and you'll really need some muscle to tear the clumps apart.