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Pennisetum (pen-nee-SEE-tum)

Common Name:  Fountain grass

Light:  - Full sun to part shade

Soil:  Average to loamy, well-drained

Moisture:  Average, drought tolerant

Blooms:  Late summer

Zones:  5 - 9, but varies by type

Pennisetum a. 'Hameln'

Pennisetum o. 'Karley Rose' PP#12909

Pennisetum Description and Cultural Information

Pennisetum alopecuroides, fountain grass. 24 - 48". Pennisetums have basal clumps of foliage from which erupts a cascading fountain of 4 - 5" fluffy pink tinged flowers developing silvery seed heads. There are many cultivars of this particular species and they are the most cold hardy of the genus. They tend to bloom in late summer. 'Hameln' is a dwarf fountain grass that grows 24 - 30". 'Little Bunny' is a miniature variety growing to 11". They only hold their plumes into early winter so are not as useful for winter interest. 'Moudry' and 'National Arboretum' have very dark plumes that hold up longer but they are both prolific self-seeders and are not recommended for that reason. Other varieties of P. alopecuroides do not self-sow as often and tend to be manageable in the garden but should still be carefully considered when planted near natural areas. Zones 5 - 9.

Pennisetum orientale, Oriental fountain grass. 36 - 48". These fountain grasses are spectacular in that they bloom over a very long period of time. 'Karley Rose' PP#12909 is a spectacular plant with smoky rose-purple flowers from June to frost and is reliably hardy in zone 5. They should be planted in full sun in good, well-drained soil to promote winter hardiness. Plants rarely self-seed. Zones (5) 6 - 9.

Pennisetum 'Rubrum' and 'Burgundy Giant', purple and burgundy fountain grass. Normally I wouldn't mention annuals here, but these tropical plants have shown up in recent years in the perennial sections of many nurseries. These have beautiful purple foliage and profuse purple-red blooms all summer long. But they are definitely not hardy and must either be over-wintered indoors or replanted each year as an annual. Zones 9 - 10.

How to grow:  Plant fountain grass in average to rich, slightly moist but well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. They are warm season growers and should be divided and transplanted in the spring, making sure that the growth points around the crown are completely covered with 1/2 to 1" of soil. Some can self-sow readily although most are manageable in the garden. They are very heat and drought tolerant and fairly easy to grow.

Landscape uses:  Use Pennisetum as an accent plant, along a border, or in containers. Smaller varieties are excellent in the rock garden.

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