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Fountain Grass
Pennisetum Annual Grass

Features

Spectacular and long blooming. Excellent planted with spring-flowering bulbs, at water's edge, and in combination with rudbeckia, Russian sage and tall sedum. Attractive fall color and winter effect. Plumes are valued in flower arrangements.

Bloom Color

Buff-colored flowers.

Blooms

Early summer to frost

Hardiness

Varies

Height

Grows 12-60" (31-152 cm) tall, depending on variety.

Spacing

12-36" (31-91 cm) apart, depending on variety.

Feed

Use all-purpose

Tips and Uses

Winter Interest

Habit

Clumping

Water

Likes consistent soil moisture; check often as establishing

Preferred Light

Full sun.

Maintenance

Divide every 3-5 years

Special Features

Deer Resistant, Attractive Foliage



Companion Plants

Gayfeather

Tickseed

› General Plant Info

  • Ornamental grasses bring beauty, grace and motion to the garden. Available in an amazing array of sizes, shapes and colors, grasses may be long-term garden perennials or single-season annuals, depending on the variety and your climate. Flowers may be showy plumes or hardly noticeable. Use grasses to unify landscape plantings, grouped along garden's edge, threaded through larger plantings, or as a hedge or backdrop to other plants.
  • Grasses grown as annuals provide their full impact in a single growing season. They will typically grow quickly, bloom profusely, and make a striking display throughout the gardening season.
  • Perennial grasses may be cool- or warm-season plants. Cool-season grasses start their growth early and provide consistent color and texture through the growing season. They are especially lush when rainfall is ample and temperatures are mild, and flowering tends to be brief and early. This group include fescues, blue oat grass and hair grasses.
  • Warm-season grasses are slower to emerge in spring, making them excellent companions to spring-blooming bulbs or perennials like Oriental poppies, which tend to die back after flowering. These grasses thrive in the heat of midsummer and tolerate drought. They typically produce showy flower plumes later in the season, and these will remain standing for winter interest in regions where most other perennials disappear until spring. This group includes fountain grass, maiden grass, Northern sea oats, and switch grass.
  • Grasses have a place in nearly any home landscape.
  • In containers:
  • Use a single plant to create a bold statement
  • Use taller varieties as a "thriller" at the center of a combo, and mounded forms are great as "fillers"
  • In the garden:
  • Plant in sweeping masses for a river effect of color and motion
  • Mix with flowering or foliage perennials, annuals or shrubs with complementary or contrasting colors and textures
  • Use as part of larger landscape plantings to complement an overall design
  • Design and site considerations:
  • Color - Grasses often have consistently colorful foliage, but some become more vibrant at key points in the season. Plan companion plants to complement seasonal displays.
  • Height - To make sure all your plants get good lighting and none get lost among the other plants, start with tallest varieties at the center or back of a planting, and place gradually shorter plants as you move toward garden’s edge. It’s fine to put the occasional tall, open plant closer to the edge as a see-through plant to keep things interesting.
  • Remember that height and bloom time will work together, and change over the season. Tall, warm-season grasses, for example, will provide garden height in mid- or late season, but not spring or early summer.
  • Spacing - Spacing recommendations are based on the normal spread of a plant. You may space plants farther apart or closer together, depending on how quickly you want the planting to fill in. For mixed gardens, look for clump-forming grasses that will stay in bounds. Spreading grasses are best for ground cover in large spaces, erosion control on difficult sites, or grown in containers.
  • Light preference - Always match your plants to the light conditions where they will be growing. Most plants are put into one of three basic categories:
  • Full sun - 6 or more hours of direct sun
  • Part sun - 4-6 hours of direct sun. Also includes bright areas with dappled light
  • Shade - Less than four hours of direct sun
  • Watering needs - When you’re making a combo, all the plants should have similar watering needs so they will be happy in a single container.
  • Special features - Look for qualities that suit your gardening objectives, such as low maintenance, drought tolerance, resistance to deer damage, etc.
  • You’ll enjoy your plants more if you visit them regularly, and they’ll always look fresh if you take the opportunity to remove any faded blooms or trim stray growth. You’ll also notice any problems early and be able to take preventive action.

› Water Tips

  • New transplants will take a few weeks to establish as their roots grow out into their new soil. Initially, you’ll need to frequently check the soil at the plant’s base, and water if it feels dry to the touch. Observe plants closely to check for signs of flagging, and make sure to water before plants wilt.
  • In the garden:
  • As plants become established, they will need less water, depending on rainfall. A rain gauge is a helpful tool to understand how much water plants receive, and determine any additional irrigation needed.
  • Conditions that increase water needs:
  • Dry, windy weather
  • Periods of drought
  • Sandy, light soils that do not hold moisture well
  • Containers in hot, sunny spaces
  • Methods and timing:
  • For new transplants, make sure the water soaks the original root ball as well as the surrounding soil.
  • Slow, deep watering is most effective; frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow root systems that are less drought tolerant.
  • Apply water at the base of the plants to minimize evaporation and keep foliage dry, which also helps prevent disease.
  • When overhead sprinklers are used, water early in the day; morning is best. Foliage will dry quickly as the day warms.
  • If plants are wilted, water right away.
  • Containers:
  • Check daily, and water thoroughly when soil feels dry an inch below the surface.
  • If plants appear to be wilting, check soil to make sure it is dry — extreme overwatering can also cause wilting.
  • Drip irrigation or soaker hoses can be put on a timer and help make vacation watering a breeze.

› Planting Tips

  • Most soils benefit from the addition of organic matter such as compost, peat, or composted manure. This helps poor, sandy soils to better retain moisture, and breaks up heavy clay soil to help air, water, and plant roots move more freely.
  • For new planting beds, prepare the soil by tilling and work in organic matter following product recommendations.
  • To add new plants to an established bed or use as a specimen in the lawn, dig a hole twice as wide and about the same depth as the root ball of your new plant, slightly more shallow if soil is heavy clay. Mix organic matter with the native soil.
  • Gently remove plant from its container, taking care not to pull on the main stem as this can cause damage by breaking away roots.
  • Loosen roots gently if they are packed tightly into the shape of the container.
  • Plant at the same depth as it was in its container. For larger plants, make a low ring of soil around the plants, just wider than the root ball. This will help funnel the water to the plant’s roots during the establishment period.
  • For peat pots, break away the lip of the container so that it is just lower than the soil, then plant as above. For other plant-in-the-pot products, follow package directions.
  • Water carefully with a gentle flow, soaking the prepared soil and the transplants.
  • Mulch may be applied between the plants, keeping a few inches away from the plant stems. This will help prevent weeds and retain moisture.
  • Containers:
  • Choose a container with drainage holes. There is no need to add pot shards or stones to the bottom of the pot.
  • Large planter boxes and containers are best, especially for perennial grasses you'd like to keep in the container for more than one season. Plants have more room to grow, and are less likely to dry out or be damaged by freezing in larger containers.
  • Use a lightweight professional potting mix for small containers, or a high-quality organic garden soil for larger, open-bottomed planters.
  • Remove plants from the nursery pots.
  • Loosen roots gently if they are packed tightly into the shape of the container.
  • Plant at the same depth as the root ball.
  • Water thoroughly with a gentle flow.
  • Note that perennial grasses grown in containers are more vulnerable to winter extremes. In cold winter climates it is recommended to transplant perennials into the ground in fall, unless they are hardy to two full zones colder than your region.

› Fertilizer

  • As a rule, grasses will not require a lot of fertilization. Replenishing soil annually with a top dressing of compost, and maintaining a 2-3” layer of organic mulch will help build and retain good soil fertility.
  • Grasses in containers, however, perform best with regular fertilization. High-quality potting soil promotes free drainage and healthy roots, but cannot provide nutrients for plant growth.
  • Sites with poor or lean, sandy soil may need some help with supplemental fertilizers.
  • Time-release fertilizers can be used as a soil dressing, and are applied only a few times during the growing season, depending on the product. Each time the plant is watered, a small amount of fertilizer is released.
  • Water-soluble fertilizers can be applied with a hose-end sprayer or mixed in a watering can or bucket. This gives plants an immediate boost, but will need to be repeated throughout the season.
  • Choose an all-purpose product and follow package instructions carefully.
  • If you are uncertain about your soil fertility, your local extension service can usually recommend testing services.
  • New transplants will not require fertilization until after they have become established, unless you are using a specially formulated starter product.
  • If your plants are dry and wilting, water immediately with clear water. Fertilizing at this time will cause leaf burn. Wait until plants have perked back up before feeding.

› Pruning Tips

  • Tall grasses left standing for winter interest should be cut down to 4-8 inches in late winter or early spring. This prevents any cosmetic damage to emerging shoots.
  • Evergreen grasses or grass-like plants such as sedge and liriope may be sheared in spring to remove any winter-burned foliage, or trimmed as needed to remove other damage as it occurs.
  • When early- or cool-season grasses have finished blooming, spent stalks can be cut or pulled to tidy the plants.
  • Annual grasses that bloom constantly through the season do not usually need to be deadheaded, but if old seedheads accumulate, remove them to improve the plant's appearance.
  • To prevent unwanted seeding of grasses, remove the old flowers before seeds mature. The plumes and seedheads of many, including sea oats, pampas grass and maiden grass, may be used in dried flower arrangements.
  • Grasses maintenance:
  • Division. If established perennial grasses begin to flop, or grow in a circle with no new growth in the center, plants may benefit from being divided. Use a pruning or reciprocating saw to loosen the spent area in the center of the clump, then remove the debris. Fill center with fresh garden soil, water well, and fertilize to encourage new growth. Or, if you'd like more plants, remove wedges of the "ring" and replant elsewhere in the garden or share with others.
  • Weed control. Keep garden plots and containers weed-free to prevent competition and reduce pest and disease problems.
  • Take notice of any signs of disease or insect damage so that you can take prompt preventive action.