Miscanthus / Elephant grass, Miscanthus giganteus
Miscanthus, also frequently called elephant grass, is probably THE VERY perfect energy grass. Provided that the conditions, such as regular water supply and at least average arable land, suit it, then it can achieve dry matter yields that can hardly be reached by other energy grasses, shrubs, or even energy woods. Another great benefit is the fully mechanized harvesting of dry (!) chopped material!
What Is Miscanthus?
Species of genus Miscanthus (also named elephant grass or Chinese grass, or silvergrass) refer to mostly very fast-growing, winter-hardy, deciduous, and bunch-forming grasses.
Using Miscanthus as Energy Plant
- Miscanthus x giganteus, a renewable raw material for highly environmentally efficient biomass production (heating, bedding, garden mulch) and an environmentally friendly alternative for plastic products in automotive and construction industries.
- Strong growth at minimal efforts and low nutrient removal of the planted area (low-input C4-plant)
- With its enormous area output, miscanthus is a practical and simple substitute for wood or heating oil (1 hectare replaces about 3,000-7,000 l heating oil!)
Using Miscanthus in Garden Design
- Miscanthus x giganteus is used, along with many ornamental varieties (mostly Miscanthus sinensis), as single plants or group planting in garden design.
- As hedgegrow, miscanthus forms a fast-growing, look-proof, and deciduous fence
Cultivation of Miscanthus
- Planting time: April to May (alternatively, in autumn before ground frost that makes planting impossible)
- Soil conditions: Easily penetrable und water-bearing arable soils, ideally in corn maize locations.
Sandy soils, waterlogging, and longer summer dryness may decrease the yields.
- Climate: Best of all, at least 7 degrees of annual average temperature and at least 600-700 mm of precipitation, well distributed over the vegetation period.
- Manual planting for the areas of up to 0.5 ha; moreover, it is recommended to plant using a modified potato planter (disposal unit 15-20 cm!)
- Rhizomes (root pieces) should be placed at the depth of 5-8 cm and with a planting distance of 0.8 x 0.8 – 1 x 1 m. Plant them deeper in light soils and more shallowly in heavy soils, then roll down / firm the soil well.
- Tending: Keep as weed-free as possible in the 1st year of planting; mechanical weed control methods, such as chopping or weeding, are recommended. Alternatively, you can apply the means used for controlling weeds in maize cultivation (make sure that you have a permission!).
Fertilization of Miscanthus
- Don’t fertilize in the year of planting!
- There is a very low need for fertilizing (max. 100 kg of pure nitrogen/ha/pa). Ash recirculation is possible and reasonable.
- Too intensive manure fertilization is not recommended. If nevertheless, then do it in early spring.
- Yearly growth is always harvested the subsequent year, after freezing and drying, using a maize chopper (Kemper rowless header) or a baling press, from April to May, before re-growth.
- Chopping length 2-3 cm / Cutting height 10-15 cm
- Water content should be below 20%, ideally 8-14%
- Area output: 1 h/ha at the optimal area shape
Grubbing and Liquidation of Miscanthus
- Plough or dig out after 20-25 years of use.
- You can sow a meadow, mow the area repeatedly, or cultivate an intensively consuming subsequent crop, and spud the soil additionally, if necessary.
Harvest Yields of Miscanthus
- 15,000 kg/ha of dry matter as the average area output on water-bearing humous brown soils over the harvesting period of about 20 years
- No yield in the 1st year (height of about 1 m)
- First partial yields in the 2nd year (height of about 2 m), about 30%
- First full harvest in the 3rd year (height of 3-4 m)
Miscanthus Planting Costs
- Rhizomes (root cuttings) are shipped ready-cut in bags.
- Hand-sorted large rhizomes with at least four living buds from young crops, packed in 300 pcs./bag
- About 2,000-2,500 Euro planting costs (soil cultivation, purchasing rhizomes, tractor, planting machine, plant protection, and labor expenses), depending on the area size.
Elephant grass, Chinese grass, or silvergrass – so many names for a special grass, Miscanthus x giganteus.
Species of genus Miscanthus refer to very fast-growing, winter-hardy, deciduous, and bunch-forming grasses. Unlike, for example, bamboo, it does not produce those annoying offshoots. The main growth time of the elephant grass, as it is also commonly named, is from May through September. Upon an approximately two-year-long establishing stage, you can anticipate a 20-25-year-long main usage stage and a 5-10-year-long subsequent-use stage. Moreover, this plant genus is considered among the so-called low-input plants, i.e., expenses related to fertilizing, watering, and harvesting are very low as compared to what the plant takes from the soil or needs some re-fertilizing. In this respect, experts rely on the energy input/output ratio of 1 to 25-50 (depending on the source). Already 2.23 kg of miscanthus with the water content of 14 % are equivalent to the calorific value of 1 l of extra light heating oil. Thus, about 3-7,000 l of heating oil equivalent can be produced on one hectare of the agricultural land with the average bonitation annually!
Humous loamy soils with an ample supply of water are the best for planting elephant grass. Unsuitable are very heavy soils, waterlogged soils, and those tending to compaction. The soild should be wet, but not waterlogged down to the depth of about 1 m (pH=5-8). Root-spreading weeds should not play a dominant role. Planting miscanthus in (corn) maize locations with a soil value of at least 60 leads to excellent yields; however, poorer soils can also produce satisfactory results.
Along with soil bonitation, the sprouting ability of Miscanthus grasses depends to a great extent on the precipitation amounts and distribution up to mid-September. Precipitation of 700-900 mm under a good distribution is considered to be perfect during vegetation period. At lower precipitation, yields may decrease, while 500-600 mm are probably the minimum accepted. After a longer dry period, it stops growing and may partially defoliate. Growth will continue as soon as there is again precipitation or watering.
Average annual temperature should exceed 7° C, but 8.5° C would be better. Dry-summer locations are not recommended. Planting at the locations situated at a height above 700-800 m above sea level may also be troublesome, and the same applies to very snowy regions (-> Storage/Folding). Low temperatures provide an adverse effect on young plants.
North-facing slopes, cold-waterlogging valley locations, and those tending to late frosts are less suitable for planting this crop. Leaves of young shoots die at the temperature of below −5° C, but then the plant usually sets new shoots again. For the rhizomes to overwinter successfully, a closed snow cover would be an advantage in regions with very low temperatures.
Planting Miscanthus Rhizomes
This a bit cumbersome term, “rhizome,” means root piece or root cutting. These are the thicker roots perennial grasses, such as Miscanthus, that can be used for propagating this plant. Simply, such propagation via rhizomes can be described as follows:
- Digging Out a 1-2-Year-Old Miscanthus Stalk
- Such stalk consists of many root cuttings / rhizomes. You can only split them manually (uneasily) or using a suitable tool and obtain the rhizome from it.
- Alternatively, you can also divide such a stalk into two or four parts in the middle, probably with a sharp spade and then plant separate parts back again.
Upon being planted, within the subsequent year, a miscanthus rhizome forms a root stalk again, up to 1 meter high (this is why there must be distance of 0.8 x 0.8 – 1 x 1 m between plants).
Such root cuttings can be obtained from all grasses that form those pulpy rhizomes. Bamboo and giant cane (Arundo) can also be propagated in this manner.
- Planting time: April to May
- We recommend using a modified potato planter (dropping tube 15-20 cm!), small areas can also be processed manually.
- Put rhizomes to the depth of 4 cm (on light soils) to 8 cm (on heavy soils) and then compact/firm it well.
- Planting distance: 0.8 x 0.8 – 1 x 1 m
- in well rootable and water-bearing arable lands, ideally on maize fields.
- At least 7 degrees of average annual temperature and at least 600 mm precipitation at good distribution during the vegetation period.
- Sandy soils, waterlogging, and longer summer dryness may reduce the yields.
Preparing Miscanthus / Elephant Grass for Planting
To prepare for planting, the soil should be ploughed to the depth of at least 20 cm in autumn. You should be careful not to plough-in the large organic masses of the preceding crop, since the releasing nitrogen inhibits the ripening in autumn. One-year-old miscanthus plants start accumulating nutrients into their rhizomes very late in autumn, whereas the frost resistance cannot be adequately guaranteed anymore at intense growth, especially in autumn.
Planting Miscanthus / Elephant Grass
Rhizomes are very sensitive to dryness, so they should be planted as soon after unpacking as possible (planting time from mid-April to mid-May at the latest). Optimal soil temperature for planting is 10° C. In case of planting too early, there is a danger of late frosts, while too late one is endangered by very high spring temperatures or hotness.
In view of harvest, it is recommended to form the areas as rectangularly as possible and to ensure that this can be well achieved with heavy harvesters. Unfavorable locations are difficult to harvest and, therefore, considerably more expensive in terms of machine costs. Starting from 2 hectares, harvesting costs reduce considerably.
Rhizomes are planted at a depth of about 4 cm for light soils and about 8 cm for heavy ones. The most cost-effective planting is done with an old modified potato planter. For this purpose, the dropping tube is replaced with a polocal tube of about 15-20 cm in diameter. An optimal soil contact is necessary for successful growth, this is why it is so important to have pressing rollers on the planter. Additionally, the area should be firmed and watered, if necessary.
Please read also on this topic of planting Miscanthus our Planting Instructions as a PDF-file.
In the first year, weed control, along with the quality and freshness of rizhomes, is the decisive factor for the success of planting.
Currently, various maize herbicides are allowed for the chemical control of weeds. (Please always pay attention to the permission!) Alternatively to using sprays, chopping and careful grooming work effectively. In case of controlling weeds mechanically in the year of planting out, it is mostly necessary to chop three times between plant lines.
No or just a few occurrences of diseases or pests are known; however, they may occur at waterlogged locations or in weaked plants.
Storage (Falling/Folding) of Chinese Grass
This happens where snow falls to early, i.e., where leaves have not fallen away yet. In young plants, their stalks can still straighten up again after the thaw period; as to older ones, they mostly break at a height of about 40-50 cm above ground. In strongly leaning plants, leaves cannot fall.
When chopping, a considerable amount of dust is formed, and the quality of chopped material is relevantly worse, due to the increased contents of silicon and dust! Folding also reduces the travel speed of chopper, which leads to the increased expenses of harvesting.
Fertilizing Your Elephant Grass
Since the largest part of nutrients accumulated and assimilates formed is displaced back into rhizomes starting from mid-September, possible fertilization may be of just a little importance. Falling leaves stay in the field as mulch. Due to no formation of seeds or fruits, the need for nutrients is considerably lower than in comparable arable crops. Fertilizing with nitrogen is recommended starting from the 2nd year of standing at the earliest, but this crop can also be cultivated without any fertilizer. At good locations, it is only reasonable in the 8th or 9th year. In general, fertilizer should be spread immediately upon harvesting (April/May). For this purpose, you can drive around the field with a fertilizer spreader.
Types of Fertilizers:
• Potassium: Spreading ashes over the surface is possible and recommended after the first years.
• Manure: Basically, it is not recommended to spread manure; when it is still required, then in small amounts only.
• N-fertilizer: This type of fertilizers affects yields in even small amounts. Yield potential can mostly be exhausted with just 60 kg of N/ha (mineral fertilizer), but no more than 100 kg N/ha/a.
Dates and techniques are determined depending on the use of the harvested materials. As the harvesting period, the period from November through early May prevails, mostly April is ideal. In this respect, a week of sunshine before havesting is an advantage. Water content should be as low as possible (8-12 %), since heating and mold forming can be expected in the chopped materials at a higher humidity (>20 %).
Chopped material is well storable within additional drying. Prerequisite for a relevant quality of the chopping material is harvesting technique and using high-quality knives. Moreover, it is critical that there is enough material available for feeding − the recommended cut height is 10-15 cm. Chopping length should be 2−3 cm, while the material should be chopped acrros the storage direction.
Another possibility is pressing to large bales that can be burnt by large furnaces as a whole. We have already successfully experimented with pressing silo bales.
Maturation Ratio of Elephant Grass
Starting from the end of September, nutrients are retro-displaced to rhizomes, especially in September and October. This is why dry planting cannot be recommended with good conscience, since the miscanthus plants are not generally fully ripened until December.
Yields from Miscanthus
Yields depend to a great extent on the soil quality, water supplies, and the temperature of the location. The expected yields of dry matter (DM-yields / absolute dry tons*):
- • 4,000−7,000 kg/ha in the 2nd year
- • 12,000−18,000 kg/ha starting from the 3rd year
* 1 absolute dry ton is equal to 10−12 m³ of chopped materials (storage capacity!).
Miscanthus Life Cycle
The total cultivation period of miscanthus is roughly about 25-30 years. One to two years of that are considered to be the period of establishing, 20-25 years the vegetation period, and about 5 years the subsequent use stage.
In the third year, the plants are about 3 m high, and the first full yields can be obtained for the first time. The maximal yields are achieved in the 6th or 7th year, and the yields can be kept at a constant level afterwards.
Liquidation of Miscanthus (Elephant Grass Fields)
If possible, tillage should be performed with a heavy tine cultivator immediately after the last harvest. Then the rhizomes are milled, so that the largest part of grasses dies due to drying up. In conventional farming, sprouting rhizome parts are sprayed with a total herbicide at a stalk length of 20-40 cm. Aftersprings must be processed carefully (year 2-4). To create a relevant competitive pressure, you should plant a nitrogen-consuming catch crop strongly forming surface mass. Then you can expect to cultivate the first regular successive crop in autumn.
There are really many applications of chopped miscanthus! At the beginning, harvested miscanthus found predominantly thermal utilization, i.e., it was burned. In terms of personal need, it is still the case today, as well. Due to chopped material glut starting from approximately 2017 with storm damages, beetle infestation, and similar issues, it made certainly sense to search for new opportunities of selling chopped miscanthus plants.
Below are three links to the elephant grass usage opportunities that are very practical and profitable for a farmer. In recent years, miscanthus established itself more and more in garden design as mulch, as well as in animal husbandry as litter. You will find information on Heating with Elephant Grass (also in pellets or brickets) by clicking this link. Our own article on miscanthus pellets is located here.
Between 2005 and 2015, due to easy and relatively cost-effective planting of miscanthus, there was a real boom on the new areas of this energy grass. Today, its applications extend more and more from purely heating material to garden mulch substitution and also to animal bedding, especially in horse farming.
Due to the high percentage of damaged wood, mostly caused by storms and bark beetles and by the accompanying price decline in biomass, the newly planted areas are currently rather limited. Medium- to long-term, however, miscanthus will probably make a significant contribution to biomass supply and to other applications.
From our own experience, we can highly recommend planting miscanthus, especially for famers who would like to earn long-term returns with a lower input. For all questions regarding the above information or regarding your own specific miscanthus project, you can surely contact us by phone on 0043-6213/69 956, by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or by WhatsApp at 0043 670/6078043!
Further Information on Miscanthus
- Instructions on Growing Miscanthus / Elephant Grass / Chinese Grass by the Austrian Agricultural Chamber (LKO)
- Miscanthus: Planting and Using – Information for Practice – Detailed Work on Miscanthus by Our Commercial Partner TFZ (Technology and Support Center in the Competence Center for Renewable Resources) in Straubing, Bavaria, Germany
- Wikipedia on Miscanthus x giganteus (Giant Reed)
- Booklet on Elephant Grass / Miscanthus with all important details collected from this website or Brief Information in a Folder as a downloadable PDF file, respectively
C.v.W, Denmark, 2/20/2020
From my experience of the last year, I can say.
- Your delivery is perfect.
- Due to very dry spring, and the location was not good enough for tillage (too loose), the rhizomes were planted too deeply, only 1,800 of 1,200 rhizomes came up.
Ich have slightly modified the planter and then I will be more careful with tillage.
- I tried to destroy weeds mechanically and manually. Here I must confess that the time, including full-time work and hay harvesting inbetween, was not sufficient.
This year, I’m going to use chemicals; unfortunately, only few substances are allowed here, in Denmark.
- Although mischanthus does not make yields in the first year, nevertheless, I have harvested using an old maize chopper.
So I must experiment some more now.
Attached are some pictures.
Andrea & Roberto Drigani, Udine, Italy, 12/11/2019
Before planting your rhizomes, we have already had some miscanthus fields with roots, bought in England. We use chopped miscanthus as chicken bedding. We breed chickens and, thanks to this new harvest, we managed to update and improve the breeds of our poultry house with good outcomes. In 2017, we won a national award in the category of Environmental Sustainability, which was awarded in Rome to best breeders of the year.
Andrea und Roberto Drigani, Udine, Italy
Prima di seminare i tuoi rizomi, avevamo già dei campi a miscanto, radici acquistate in Inghilterra. Il miscanto tritato lo impieghiamo come lettiera per i polli. Il nostro lavoro è allevatori di polli.
Grazie a questa nuova coltura abbiamo innovato e migliorato le lettiere dei capannoni avicoli, con buoni risultati e nel 2017 abbiamo vinto un premio nazionale ritirato a Roma come migliori allevatori dell’anno, nella categoria sostenibilità ambientale.Grazie
Un caro saluto
Andrea e Roberto Drigani, Udine, Italia
Neven A., September 2019
A half of the Miscanthus giganteus plants that I have ordered have sprouted. However, since I received 130 roots instead of 100, the success is still above 60 %.
It would have probably been even better, if I had planted them immediately, not after 4 days. It is also possible that I have planted the roots too deeply. I’m going to split the plants next spring.
All together, I’m very happy, first of all, that the company offers something like this ever! As soon as I have more ground, I’ll order something again.
Alfa S.-T., Lower Austria, Austria, October 2018
Perfect customer orientation and super service. I bought both miscanthus rhizomes and horse bedding. Sales processing and communication are 1A
H.K. S. Thuringen, Germany, 2017
I’m very happy with the goods and delivery.
The plants have grown up very well and now they appear to be higher than 1 meter.
Christian Sch., Germany, 2017
I planted miscanthus in a quite boggy location. They are growing perfectly. Those planted last year are 2 m high already.
Rafa H., Liverpool, Great Britain, November 2016
Bought 200 Miscanthus rhizomes in Spring 2016. Brilliant service and very informative. Shipping to UK was no problem. Even emailed me months after I’d received my order to see if everything was ok, excellent service. Plant’s have been flourishing. Would definitely recommend and will be using them again in the future.
Klaus W., Lower Austria, Austria, 2016
Rhizomes have sprouted perfectly. I planted them for a small hedge for visibility protection, and they have grown up well.
Hubert P., Vienna, Austria, 2016
I bought Miscanthus sinensis giganteus and used it for visibility protection. Very nice and quick sales processing. Plants are growing as I hoped them to. What else could I ask more?
Eugen P. L., Vienne, Austria, July 2015
I added the plants to the existing visibility protection, und I’m very happy.
R. T., Styria, Austria 2015
Timely delivery! Super-quality!
Nicoletta N., Italy, February 2010
in allegato le invio il mio parere sul suo lavoro e la qualità dei rizomi forniti:
– l’aquisto tramite la sua azienda è stato molto semplice e non complicato, dato che avete risposto molto velocemente in forma di e-mail anche in lingua inglese
– avete fornito i rizomi ad inizio maggio come stabilito per via e-mail
– i prezzi erano buoni e più convenienti rispetto a quelli offerti da altri coltivatori
– la qualità dei rizomi era molto buona, infatti, per esempio, nell’anno della coltivazione abbiamo potuto osservare una quota di accrescimento dell’85 % senza irrigazione (osservazione: posizione Pisa, Italia)
Nicoletta N., PhD
Centro Interdisciplinare Enrico Avanzi Studi sull’ambiente e l’agraria
Translation from Italian:
Below is my opinion regarding your work and the quality of the rhizomes delivered:
– Buying from your company was very easy and uncomplicated, since you replied to our e-mails very quickly, including in English
– You delivered the rhizomes as negotiated in our e-mail exchange, on time, in early May
– Your prices were good, lower than in the offers of other farmers
– Rhizome quality was very good. For example, in the year of planting, we found the growth rate of about 85 %, namely without watering (note: Pisa, Italy)
Nicoletta N., PhD
Interdisciplinary Center of Agricultural and Environmental Studies Enrico Avanzi