Fountain grass, also known as the genus Pennisetum, is an ornamental grass with an arched, bowl-like shape and plumes of feathery flowers. These herbs come in annual and perennial varieties, in various colors, from purple, green, and bronze to variegated hues. Fountain grasses vary from 1 to 5 feet tall to 1 to 4 feet wide. They are warm grasses, which means they do most of their growth during the warm summer months. It is well suited for hot, sunny, and humid regions. They also make excellent container plants.
How to care for fountain grass
1. Planting Fountain Grass
The fountain grasses perform best in full sun, with exposure to direct sunlight for at least 6-8 hours daily. It adapts to different soil conditions, including sandy, clay, alkaline, and acid soils. It grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. Find a sunny spot and dig hole wide enough for the root balls. Place the crowns slightly above the soil surface to prevent crown rot. Backfill the hole with the soil and water the well to saturate the soil. Add a layer of compost around the root zone to conserve moisture.
2. Watering Fountain Grass
Fountain grass is considered drought tolerant. Once established, it will only need the occasional supplemental water in the summer. Water this lawn regularly during the first two growing seasons to create a robust root system. Even well-established plants should be watered weekly during hot, dry periods to maintain the freshness of these herbs. Weeds grown in pots dry out more frequently than ground and should be drenched to the touch when the soil becomes dry.
3. Fertilizing Fountain Grass
This ornamental grass doesn’t need to be fertilized. Covering the root zone with compost each spring should be enough to condition most garden soil. However, if the soil test shows that your soil is deficient in nitrogen and potassium, you can apply a general-purpose fertilizer in spring at half-strength to give this lawn a boost. For example, try a water-soluble 10-10-10 balanced formula of N-P-K.
4. Pruning Plant Fountain Grass
The fountain grass will die back over the winter and can be cleaned up in the spring before new growth begins. Use a pair of the sharp, sterile pruning shears to snip the stems to about 4 inches above the ground. Some of the gardeners may be tempted to cut this lawn back in the fall, but leaving the foliage spent during the winter helps protect the crown from freezing and wet conditions and provides a home for burrowing insects and birds.
5. Caring For Fountain Grass in Pots
It is easy to grow fountain grass in containers. First, choose a frost-resistant container with large drainage holes. The container could be large enough to accommodate the root ball and allow growth. Next, use an all-purpose potting soil intended for container plants. Finally, place the grass at the depth at which it was initially planted, leaving a few inches at the top of a container for watering. Water regularly during the growing season and apply a balanced fertilizer at half strength in the spring.
6. Winter Care for Fountain Grass
Most types of fountain grass need little or no grooming during the winter, depending on their hardiness rating. Pennisetum alopecuroides, or Chinese fountain grass, comes in wide varieties that are usually hardy from zones 5 to 10. This grass does not need special protection in winter when growing in its hardiness range. In zone 4, apply a thick layer of mulch around the base to protect the crown from extreme cold during the winter. Cut this grass back a few inches above the ground in the spring. Gorgeous purple fountain grass, or Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, is hardy only in zones 9-10 and should be treated annually in cooler zones.