If you want a plant that needs almost no maintenance, offers year-round interest, provides shelter for animals, but is deer resistant, you’ll definitely want to add ornamental grasses to your list of preferred plants. Ornamental grasses, such as fountain grass, work well in casual, natural landscapes, where they provide vertical interest. Used judiciously, they can soften a more formal landscape, as well.
Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), which is native to Asia, is a particularly lovely ornamental grass, although it’s only hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. It may survive in zone 5 if planted in a protected location.
Fountain grass grows to about 3 feet high and wide. From late summer to fall, it produces spectacular silver or pink-tinged blooms. The flowers have a bottle brush shape and fall outward, resembling streams of water from a fountain – hence the name. The foliage is green in the summer and turns yellow in the fall. It fades to a soft tan over winter and can be left standing all winter long. Leaving the leaves standing not only adds winter interest, but also provides shelter for birds and helps protect the roots from cold temperatures.
Planting Fountain Grass
To grow fountain grass, plant it from nursery transplants or seeds sown directly outdoors after the last expected frost. If growing from seed, water the soil frequently to keep it evenly moist. Plant fountain grass in an area that gets full sun for best results, although it can tolerate partial shade. Amend the soil with compost or manure to improve drainage. Plant fountain grass as a single specimen or in a mass planting. Give it plenty of room to spread.
Fountain grass can tolerate some drought once established, but it really prefers slightly moist soil. It can even be planted near ponds or other wet areas because it doesn’t mind wet conditions. Fertilize fountain grass in the spring with 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer. If the plants sit next to a fertilized lawn, they may not need additional fertilizing.
Cut fountain grass back in late winter to about 3 inches above the soil line. Divide the plants every three to four years if they become thick and unruly. Dig the plants up and slice through them with a sharp knife. Replant the pieces and water them to encourage new growth.
Fountain Grass Varieties to Try
‘Weserbergland’ has wiry stems and a compact growth form, reaching only 1 ½ to 2 ½ feet tall and wide. Although it will self seed, the new plants may not grow true to the parent.
‘Hameln’ is also a compact variety, growing less than 24 inches tall. In addition to its compact size, the flowers are shorter than other varieties. The leaves turn orange in the fall.
‘Piglet’ is a dwarf form that grows only 12 inches tall.
‘Cassian’s Choice’ grows 24 inches tall and provides excellent yellow and orange fall color.
Fountain Grass Pests and Problems
Like most grasses, fountain grasses rarely experience issues with disease or insects. In cold climates, your biggest challenge will be overwintering them. Grow them near the house or surrounded by other plants and they might survive. Otherwise, grow them as annuals. In warm climates, they might become a bit unruly, spreading further than you’d like. Plant them in an area surrounded by a physical border or divide them in the spring to keep them under control.
Want to learn more about growing fountain grass?
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