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As I love Miscanthus sinensis I’m delighted when people express an interest in growing them in their gardens and the ones that appeal most are dwarf forms. They are diminutive, beautiful and versatile: make great hedges, look fabulous in pots, associate easily in mixed borders of shrubs or perennials alike, and, as great landscaping plants, would create a grassy sea of waves around the base of the pirate ship below.

Pirate ship

There are many cultivars of what are referred to as the ‘Yaku Dwarfs’ avaiable, of which I grow several and there’s no doubt that if it’s infloresences that count, they’re looking at their best right now. The question I’ve promised window shopping garden visitors to consider is : which one to choose?

The ‘Yaku’ dwarves

Dwarf miscanthus in mixed border

Mixed border with dwarf miscanthus, first year of planting

Even if I was Snow White, I’d have a hard time telling these young dwarfs apart. From left to right, between the red persicaria, they are Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’, ‘Cindy’, ‘Starlight’ and, unfortunately named, ‘Gnome’. All are very similar in habit, foliage and flower because they are so intimately related to the non-clonal seed raised strain originating from the Japanese island of Yakushima. Recent cultivars have been selected to flower freely, a marked improvement on traditional cultivars that were “shy” to flower in cooler, greyer climates.

Miscanthus starlight

Miscanthus ‘Starlight’ backed by Molinia Windspeil

In a couple of years the mixed group will look almost identical to the mature ‘Starlight’ planted around the seating area in the Dogs’ Paddock, by the end of September the hedge is smothered in gingery plumes that turn gold as winter sets in. Introduced by Knoll Gardens in 2012, ‘Starlight’ made quite a splash in the horticultural world. On release it was reviewed by owner Neil Lucas in this post . Last year ‘Starlight’ was superceded by the equally stunning lookalike ‘Cindy’.

Miscanthus 'Little Kitten'

Miscanthus ‘Little Kitten’

Neither ‘Starlight’ or ‘Cindy’ are easy to tell apart from ‘Little Kitten’, jostling for space among the hydrangeas on the right and looking more silvered as seed ripens. Both have charming and endearing names which may be as good a reason as any to select them.

Miscanthus 'Adagio' in patio pots

Miscanthus ‘Adagio’

Slightly more distinctive, at least to my eye, is the pair of ‘Adagio’ in large pots on the sunniest part of the patio. As I haven’t got a mature ground grown specimen with which to compare them, I can’t be sure that the more upright stance and narrower foliage is a quirk of being confined like this or not. Although it’s nice that this one has an AGM, this shouldn’t exclude those more recent introductions that don’t – others simply may not have been trialled yet.

Miscanthus 'Yaku Jima' 10 litre

Miscanthus ‘Yaku Jima’ potted on from 2 litres to square 10 litre, October

I can never pass a good one by, recently I spotted these ‘Yaku Jima’ in Homebase and they just had to come home with me, not because of the illustrious name but because their roots were bursting from the bottom of 2 litre pots and promised a head start if planted this autumn.

Miscanthus 'Little Kitten'

Miscanthus ‘Little Kitten’ ailing in square planter

Thanks to modern breeding programmes, all these cultivars will flower freely from late summer onwards above elegant arching mounds of foliage that stand at about the same height. Regardless of descriptions, I’ve yet to meet a mature one that, in leaf, limbos beneath the magic 1 metre bar. Unless, that is, they’re languishing like the one above. What’s ailing a friend’s litter of three year old ‘Little Kitten’ is a mystery, they’ve made little progress since they were purchased in 2012. Bought from the same reputable nursery as mine, at about the same time, and having been well cared for, they should be towering above the container by now. Perhaps life in an albeit large pot on an exposed south facing terrace makes them needier, especially for water and, possibly, for humidity.

Silver median tripped Miscanthus leaves

Miscanthus ‘Starlight’ healthy summer foliage

Grasses curl their leaves and discolour at the leaf tips when stressed by drought, and, if uncorrected will become unseasonally dormant, turning brown until conditions improve to stimulate new growth from the base of the plant. Miscanthus sinensis leaves in active growth should be green with a prominent silver median stripe. Ultimately, pot grown specimens are most vulnerable to stress, and although ground grown grasses are generally highly tolerant once established, it pays to monitor the watering in the first year or two until deep root systems are developed. Autumn planting is an advantage in this respect, while soil temperatures and light levels are high, plants put on growth below ground with the bonus that nature will help water them in. If a grass is not thriving in a pot, I’d try it in well cultivated ground.

Miscanthus sinensis Kleine Silberspinne

Miscanthus ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ taking on autumn leaf colour

If space allows, slightly taller, technically medium height alternatives are often easier to tell apart. The classic ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ is notable for its fine form, spidery foliage and, a crowning glory of rich, red tinted awns. Sussex Prairies has a stunning mass planting of this one, planted as a broad band separating the mixed perennial borders.

Miscanthus Yaku Jima plume

Miscanthus ‘Yaku Jima’ plume unfurling

In the end, choice is often determined simply by what’s on offer. Independent nurseries or good commercial retailers may fill a special order and, as autumn is a great time to buy and plant, specialist nurseries can supply by post. If large numbers are required, try a wholesaler. I think the hallmark of a good dwarf miscanthus, is a free flowering habit, beyond that, this family of dwarf Miscanthus sinensis is graceful and useful, but bear such a strong resemblance to each other that my greatest concern is keeping track of the labels.

Places to compare dwarf miscanthus :


RHS Wisley

Kew Gardens

Bressingham Gardens (National Collection for Miscanthus)

Knoll Gardens

For a bit more about planting distances, cultivation and winter interest please see March post Miscanthus Queen of the Grasses