Detailed Information on Miscanthus, Chinese Reed or Elephant Grass

Miscanthus giganteus Detail

Miscanthus giganteus detail

Miscanthus giganteus – is one of perhaps most exciting energy grasses of our time, and this is with minimal inputs and enormous crop performance. Below, we would like to offer you all details on this “Jumbo grass”, that you will need for your successful miscanthus planting.

However, feel also free to contact us by e-mail at: or by phone, and we will answer all your questions. Of course, we invite you with pleasure to visit our own elephant grass fields (with prior reservation)!

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Soils and Climate for Chinese Reed

Humous clay soils with good irrigation are the best for the cultivation of elephant grass. Unfit are very heavy soils and such ones that tend to compaction. The soil should be wet, but it should not be water-logged at the depth down to 1 m (pH 5−8). Goudweeds should not play any dominating role. The cultivation of miscanthus / Chinese reed on corn/maize fields with a soil value starting from 60 results in excellent revenues, however, even weaker soils provide satisfactory outputs.

The vigor of miscanthus plants, along with the soil valuation depends to a great extent on the level and distribution of precipitation till about mid-September. The level of precipitation of 700-900 mm at a good distribution is considered to be ideal during the vegetation period. At a lower precipitation level, the harvest may decrease, about 500 mm being the minimum allowed. Longer dry periods may result in the growth stoppage with partly defoliation. The growth will continue as soon as precipitation or irrigation take place.

Miscanthus, Elefantengras, Chinaschilf, Chinagras

Miscanthus Fields in Oberhofen, Austria

The annual average temperatures should be above +7°C, better 8.5°C. Dry-summer locations are not recommended. Cultivation in locations 700-800 m above sea level is problematic, the same applies to very snowy areas. Low temperatures may produce adverse effect on young plants.

Nothern slopes, cold-accumulating valley locations as well as locations tending to late frosts, are unfit for cultivation. The leaves of young sprouts die at temperatures under -5°C, but they are usually able to set new shoots afterwards. For a good wintering of rhizomes, it would be preferable to provide a closed snowy cover in the regions with very low temperatures.

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Preparations for Planting Miscanthus / Elephant Grass

To be prepared for planting, the field should be ploughed to a depth of at least 20 cm in autumn. It should be ensured that no large organic amounts of previous crops are incorporated, since the free-releasing nitrogen inhibits the maturation in autumn. one-year-old miscanthus plants start storing nutrients in the rhizomes very late in autumn, and, thus, the frost resistance cannot be protected sufficiently during the too intensive growth, especially in autumn.

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Planting Material: Miscanthus Rhizomes

Miscanthus Rhizome

Miscanthus Rhizomes

When buying, please make sure that the tissues are healthy and firm! Cut or broken locations should be whitish, light-colored. Rhizomes that you receive from us are about 7−15 cm long and usually have 4 or more well-formed eyes. As a rule, they are harvested and subsequently sorted manually on the same day, and temporarily stored without quality losses in plastic bags at a cool and dark location.

Planting Miscanthus / Elephant Grass

The rhizomes are very sensitive to dry air, so they should be planted as soon as possible upon unpacking (planting time: mid-April to at latest mid-May). Optimal soil temperature for planting is 10°C. For too early planting, there can be a threat of late frosts, while for too late one, there can be unusually high spring temperatures. Plant spacing is 1×1 m = 10,000 plants/ha.
In view of harvesting, it is recommended to form areas as rectangular as possible and to make sure that they are well reachable for heavy harvesting machines. Unfit fields are difficult to be harvested and, because of that, much more cost-consuming in terms of machine expenditures. Starting from 2 ha, harvesting costs reduce significantly.
The rhizomes should be set at a depth of about 4 cm for light soils and about 8 cm for heavy ones. The most profitable planting results from using an old, re-designed potato machine. At the same time, the dropping shaft is replaced with a polokal pipe about 15−20 cm in diameter. For successful growth, an optimal soil contact is necessary, that is why the depth-guiding rollers of the setting machine are of importance. Additionally, the area should be rolled out and watered, if necessary.

Care and Plat Protection of Miscanthus / Chinese Grass

Elefantengras-Wurzel nach ca 5 Wochen, ungenuegende Unkrautbekaempfung!

Elephant grass root upon 5 weeks, insufficient weed control!

In the first year, the weed control, along with the quality and freshness of rhizomes, is the critical factor for the success of planting. After the second year, about 30% of the full potential output can be harvested. In the third year, the first full harvest is available, and, starting from this date, the small amounts of fertilizers can be added.
For weed control, „Callisto“ and „Harmony“ (maize media) are allowed. Alternatively to the implementation of spray liquids, hoeing and careful currying have also proven their worth. If weeds are controlled mechanically in the year of planting, usually three-time hoeing between the rows.
Liability to diseases or to pests is very small or isn’t known well; however, it is possible at hillsides or with weakened products.

Fertilizing Miscanthus / Elephant Grass

Since, starting in mid-September, the large part of the nutrients consumed and the assimilants formed re-locates to rhizomes, only minor amounts of any fertilizers will settle out. The leaves fallen stay in the field as a mulch layer. Due to no seed/fruit formation, the need for nutrients is significantly lower than in comparable arable crops.
Nitrogen-based fertilizing is recommended at the earliest in the 2nd year, bt the crop can also be realized without any fertilizing at all. In good locations, this is only reasonable starting from the 8th of 9th year. In general, the fertilizer should be distributed immediately upon harvesting (April/May). You can also drive across the field with a fertilizer spreader.

Fertilizer Types:

  • Potassium: Removing ashes from the surface is possible and recommended after the first several years
  • Manure: Generally, manure distribtion would be advised against; however, if you still would like to, then in only small amounts.
  • Nitrogen-(N)-Based Fertilizers: This fertilizer provides its effect upon harvest in even insignificant amounts. Only 60 kg of N/ha can exhaust the earning potential (mineral fertilizer), the maximum shall not exceed 100 kg N/ha/a.

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Miscanthus Field

Useful Life of Miscanthus

Plant life: about 25 years
Setting: 1−2 vegetation periods
Main use phase: 20−25 vegetation periods
End-of-life phase: 5−10 vegetation periods
In the third year, the plants are about 3 m high, and the full harvest can be reached for the first time at that period. The maximal revenue can be reached in the 6th and 7th year, and after that, the harvest can be supported on a constant level.

Chinese Grass Lodging (Falling / Breaking)

This happens if snow falls too early, i.e. when leaves have not been fallen yet. In plants that are still young, the stalks can rise again after thaw, but in older plants, the stalks break at about 40−50 cm above the ground. In strongly lodging stalks, leaves cannot fall anymore.
During chopping, a significant amount of dust develops, and therefore, the quality of chopping (higher silicon content!) is worse (maturity ratio). Lodging also decreases the driving speed of your chopper, which may result in slightly higher harvesting costs.

Maturity Ratio of Elephant Grass

Starting from the end of September, reserve store moves to the rhizome system, especially in September and October. For this reason, we would not recommend autumn planting in all conscience, since miscanthus plants are usually completely mature only in December.

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Miscanthus Yields

Soil value, watering and local temperatures influence strongly the yields from planting miscanthus.

Dry mass yields (DM yields/air dry tons*):

Miscanthus/Elefantengras/Chinagras/Chinaschilf Hackgut/Hächselgut

Elephant GrassChopped Materials

• 4.000−7.000 kg/ha in the 2nd year

• 12.000−20.000 kg/ha starting from the 3rd year

For the water content of 14 %, you can expect to harvest an average yield of 19,000 kg/ha (corn/maize fields).

* 1 air dry ton equates to 10−12 m³ of chopped material (storage capacity!).

Harvest of Elephant Grass / Miscanthus

Dates and methods should be chosen before using or realizing the harvest! The normal period of harvesting is the span from November to early May, April is usually the ideal one. One week of sunshine is necessary before harvesting starts. The water content should be as low as possible (10−20 %), since a higher humidity (>20 %) would cause heating and mould formation in chopped materials.

Maishächsler für Miscanthus/Elefantengras-Ernte

Rowless Maize Chopper for Harvesting Miscanthus

Chopped materials are usually well stored. A condition for the relevant chopping quality are proper harvesting machines and using high-quality knives. This is why it is critical to have enough materials available for collecting – we recommend a cross-sectional height of 10-15 cm. The chop length should be 2−3 cm, while falling stalks are chopped transversely to the direction of falling.
Another possibility is pressing to big bales that can be burnt in whole by large firing installations. We could also conduct successful tests with silo baling.

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Stalk Resolution of Miscanthus / Elephant Grass Fields

The process should be conducted using a chisel plough as immediately as possible after the last harvesting. Then the rhizomes milled in such a manner that the plants die out due to drying. Sprouting rhizomes are sprayed at the stalk length of 20-40 cm using a round-up. Straggling rests must be processed punctually (years 2-4). To generate greater competition, a nitrogen-consuming intercrops forming the intense terraneous mass should be planted. Then you can expect to harvest the first regular successive crop in autumn.

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Commercialization of Miscanthus

The diversity of elephant grass also reflects, first of all, the almost unlimited opportunities to commercialize miscanthus. Every gardener knows about bark mulch. Some of them like it, some of them just cannot stand its smell. In this case, miscanthus is a favorable, domestic, and, as a bonus, very attractive substitution for conventional bark mulch. This mulch is extremely resistant, and, as compared to bark mulch, it needs much lower expenses. Besides, chopped miscanthus can be also used as an insulating material or admixture to construction materials (there are some good examples thereof in Switzerland), as moulded parts in automotive industry or in gardening.
For sure, the largest part of miscanthus is currently burnt for heating. Whether loose, as pellets or briquettes, elephant grass is acknowledged more and more as wood substitution directly from the field. High values of silicon and chlorine that, along with their tending to slagging, often created problems for conventional furnaces in the past, wil more and more often removed or technically better solved by furnace builders. As an admixture of 30-50 %, miscanthus has already been used really well in the past, furnaces for clean heating are offered, according to their statements, by companies, such as Hargassner, Heizomat, Froehling, ETA, Biokompakt, or Guntamatik.
Another perfect possibility to use miscanthus is using it as litter for horses or small animals. Adding a small amount of oil decreases dust development often reported at the beginning. Miscanthus straw is more absorbent than normal straw, and it can also, which is supposingly the largest benefit, be distributed on the field as a fertilizer, after being used as heating medium.
In the video attached, we show you two miscanthus usage “Best Practice Examples” from Upper Austria:

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Source: Our own experience, workshops and presentations, as well as LKOE

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