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Stipa - Growing Guide

Growing Stipa

Spear grass, Needle grass, Feather grass

Stipa are the most superb ornamental grasses both for the shrub border (S. gigantea especially) and for the herbaceous border. They are often at their most effective when grown en masse in a border devoted just to ornamental grasses which come into their own in the early frosts in November. Their inflorescences can be cut and also dried for varied flower arrangements and as Christmas dried flower arrangements.

Stipa are fully hardy grasses which grow well in medium or light well drained soil. Deciduous species (S. tenuissima) need to be cut back in early winter to tidy them up ready for the next season. Evergreen species (S. arundinacea, S. gigantea) need a tidy up in early spring to remove dead leaves and flower heads. All Stipa are easily propagated by dividing up clumps in spring to create healthy new plants.

S. arundinacea, pheasant tail grass (also known as Anemanthele lessoniana), produces pendant panicles of 30in long purplish green spikelets or flower heads. These tufted, rhizomatous perennials can make excellent specimen or feature plants. If used in this way some plant supports may be needed for the inflorescences.

S. gigantea, giant feather grass or golden oats, can eventually form clumps 4ft wide with 6-8ft tall flower spikes of bristled silvery and purplish-green spikelets which turn gold when ripe in late summer. The leaves are 2-2½ft tall so this is a substantial clump forming plant. When a gentle wind blows through the flower spikes the effect is superb. No plant supports are needed.

S. tenuissima is much smaller growing with an overall height of just 2ft from a 12in clump. The deciduous leaves are erect and filament like. They are tightly inrolled and bright green. In summer many soft feathery panicles of greenish white flowers appear and ‘nod’ in the breeze. The flower heads turn a buff colour as the season progresses. 

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