Fountain Grass
"Dream Team's" Portland Garden
Garden Design
Calimesa, CA

(Photo by: John Tann)

Q: I love the annual purple fountain grass, but it's expensive to replace yearly. I tried starting my own from harvested seed, but no go.Margaret Henson, Gainesville, GA

A: Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') rarely sets viable seed. It's propagated by holding potted plants in a greenhouse or other warm area over winter and making divisions in the spring. The same is true of other colorful forms of this tropical grass. 'Purpureum' is even darker purple, and 'Cupreum' has reddish leaves and copper foxtails. Burgundy red 'Eaton Canyon' is a little shorter than the others, about 30 inches high. Be careful if you grow several of these cultivars together, because with cross-pollination, you might get viable seed. The ordinary color of this pennisetum is green, and many seedlings will not be true to the colors of your original purple fountain grass. More important, for gardeners in the South, the seed grows readily, and Pennisetum setaceum has become a nasty weed in areas that don't get colder than about 20 degrees F, especially in Florida, California, and Hawaii.

If you have a place to protect potted plants from severe cold, you can make your own divisions in the spring. (It would be good to grow at least one potted specimen in a container all season just for this purpose — they make great looking container plants, too.) After fall frost, cut the foliage back to about 3 inches, and move the pot to an unheated garage or any place that does not get much below freezing all winter. Water the pot just enough to keep the soil moist, but not wet. Keeping the plant slightly moist but on the dry side keeps it semidormant. About six weeks before last frost, move the plant into bright light, and resume watering and fertilizing. As soon as you see new growth, you can unpot the plant, divide it into sections that have at least one or two actively growing shoots each, and repot them. The more heat and bright light you give them, the faster they will grow. Remember, this is a tropical plant. Don't put new plants outdoors until tomato-planting time, when all danger of frost has passed.

Free NewsletterSign up for weekly gardening inspiration and design tips

Join thousands of design-conscious readers for exclusive offers, gardening inspiration and innovative design solutions for enjoying outdoor spaces.

*Name: *Email:

* Required Fields
We will never sell or distribute your email to any other parties or organizations.

More about the newsletter

Come on a journey with us! Explore amazing gardens, view beautiful plants, and gain insights from the world’s best designers. Click on the issue to preview its contents.

Autumn 2015 - Issue 192Autumn 2015 - Issue 192

To order a print copy of a past issue, click here.

Swipe to view slides
Follow Us Garden Design Magazine Facebook Garden Design Magazine Twitter Garden Design Magazine Google Plus Garden Design Magazine Pinterest Garden Design Magazine Instagram