Zebra grass, Miscanthus sinensis, also called Japanese silver grass and striped Eulalia grass, is a clump-forming grass with an arching growth habit. It is a warm-season grass with green and yellow or green and white bands and large, tasseled seed heads. Zebra grass grows from 2 to 8 feet in height, depending on the cultivar. Zebra grass is an easy-to-grow, hardy perennial when its basic growing needs are met, but some conditions can kill it.
Center Die Out
Zebra grass returns year after year from a central root clump that expands, with stronger new growth appearing in the outer rings. The inner growth gets shaded out as the plant returns and grows larger each year, and this inner growth eventually dies out altogether, unless the clump is divided, causing the new growth to flop over unsupported. Center die out is easy to recognize by dried-out plant material without green growth. Divide the clump into at least two, or into as many as four (depending on how old and large the plant is), parts of the plant to transplant for healthy growth.
Edema and Drowning
Zebra grass grows best in well-drained soil in a sunny location. If the soil becomes saturated with water for extended periods of time, the plant shows signs of edema. Edema, swelling of plant tissues from inundation with water, causes bumps and blisters on leaves and stems. The blisters turn brown and lead to rot. If the wet conditions aren’t eliminated, the plant’s roots become waterlogged and drown. The roots die and rot, and they can’t support foliage and plant life. The leaves wilt and turn yellow, then brown, and the entire plant dies. In wet situations, the plant will often show signs of stress before it dies, or it may become infected with fungi or other pathogens.
Too Much Shade
Most ornamental grasses require full sun. Zebra grass won’t grow well in shady locations. It may survive in partial shade but won’t thrive or reach its full height and may develop stress symptoms, leaving it vulnerable to insect and disease damage and death. Deep shade will kill zebra grass. Do not plant it under trees or bushes, and move it out of shady locations into full sun for healthy growth.
Foliar rust affects ornamental grasses, including zebra grass, in extended humid and wet conditions. Fungus causes orange and brown spots on leaves and stems, which rot leaves and interrupt the plant’s ability to make food and photosynthesize. Zebra grass is susceptible to foliar rust in tropical climates with excessive humidity, and it is more common in stressed plants. Plants showing signs of foliar rust can be treated with a fungicide, but growing conditions must be improved for healthiest growth. If left unattended, zebra grass with foliar rust can die out in wet, cold winters.
- “The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes”; Rick Darke; 2007
- “Designing with Grasses”; Neil Lucas; 2011
- University of Illinois Extension; Ornamental Grass Japanese Silver Grass; Bruce Paulsrud et al.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’; Edward F. Gilman; 1999
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images