By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Fountain grass is a spectacular ornamental specimen that provides movement and color to the landscape. It is hardy in USDA zone 8, but as a warm season grass, it will only grow as an annual in cooler areas. Fountain grass plants are perennial in the warmer climates but to save them in cooler areas try taking care of fountain grass indoors. Learn how to winter over fountain grass in containers. This will allow you to enjoy the playful foliage for years to come.
This ornamental has astounding inflorescences that look like purple squirrel tales. The foliage is a wide grassy blade with a swath of deep purplish red along the edges. Fountain grass plants may get two to five feet (1-1.5 m.) tall, in a clumping habit. The arching leaves that radiate from the center of the plant give it its name. Mature fountain grass plants may get up to four feet (1 m.) wide.
This is a really versatile plant that tolerates full sun to partial shade, walnut proximity, and moist to slightly dry soils. Most zones can only grow this plant as an annual, but bringing purple fountain grass inside can save it for another season.
The relatively wide and shallow roots of the grass are no match for freezing temperatures. Plants in cold zones should be dug up. You can put purple fountain grass in containers and bring them indoors where it’s warm.
Dig out several inches (8 cm.) wider than the farthest reach of the foliage. Gently excavate until you find the edge of the root mass. Dig down and pop out the whole plant. Place it in a pot with good drainage holes in a quality potting soil. The pot should be slightly wider than the root base. Press the soil in firmly and water well.
Taking care of fountain grass indoors is not difficult, but you need to be careful not to overwater the plant. Keep it moist but not wet because it can die very easily from drying out.
Clip the foliage down to about 3 inches (8 cm.) from the top of the pot and stick it in a sunny window in a cool room. It will revert to green coloration and won’t look like much for the winter, but when it goes back outside in the spring, it should come back.
Put purple fountain grass in containers in late summer to early fall, so you are prepared to bring them inside when freezes threaten. You can bring fountain grass plants inside and save them in the basement, garage, or other semi-cool area.
As long as there are no freezing temperatures and moderate light, the plant will survive winter. Gradually acclimate the plant to warmer conditions and higher light during spring by putting the pot outside for longer and longer periods over a week’s time.
You can also divide the roots and plant each section to start new plants.
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Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian'
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass flowers
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass flowers
A fine textured dwarf fountain grass suitable for smaller areas bright green foliage turns orange-red in fall blooms are large bottle brush like plumes of pale pink that persist until winter beautiful as a rock garden accent or massed in borders
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass has masses of beautiful plumes of pink flowers with white overtones rising above the foliage in mid summer, which are most effective when planted in groupings. Its grassy leaves are green in color. As an added bonus, the foliage turns a gorgeous coppery-bronze in the fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass is an herbaceous perennial grass with a shapely form and gracefully arching stems. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect.
This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. Deer don't particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass is recommended for the following landscape applications
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass will grow to be about 24 inches tall at maturity extending to 3 feet tall with the flowers, with a spread of 30 inches. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 10 years.
This plant should only be grown in full sunlight. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist growing conditions, but will not tolerate any standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.
Cassian Dwarf Fountain Grass is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor pots and containers. Because of its height, it is often used as a 'thriller' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. It is even sizeable enough that it can be grown alone in a suitable container. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.
I love ornamental grasses, and one of my favorites is purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'). I think I had six plantings of this last year, and this year I want to have more. The trouble is, this grass is not cold-hardy enough to survive our winters.
Fortunately I've discovered that it's not too hard to overwinter under lights, so each fall I take small divisions, pot them up, and bring them inside.
This year I waited much longer than usual to do this, and although I've been bringing a potted purple fountain grass into the garage whenever cold temps were expected, the plant is looking a little, well, brown.
It's all I have to work with though, so I'm going to forge ahead. It still has some green in it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's still alive.
Step one is to remove it from the pot, cut the plant back to about 6-8", and assess:
There are some good roots but it's not too rootbound, so this won't be too difficult!
I'll remove as much of the soil as possible from the roots. Since I'm doing this in the garage and don't want to make a big mess, I won't whack it on the ground like I usually would outside. Instead I'll put it into a bucket and quickly and forcefully hit the rootball against all of the sides of the bucket. I'll do this for a minute or so until all of the soil is gone.
Again, I can see what looks like fresh growth, so I think the plant is still alive:
I now use the loppers to cut the rootball in half:
If this were a larger plant I'd cut it into quarters -- the goal is to get a chunk that's easy to work with for the next step, which is to start pulling the clump into smaller clumps:
You might need to cut some roots, but you can wiggle these apart with some effort. The connections between some of these stalks are not too strong, so it seems like there are a bunch of smaller clumps all growing next to each other -- they really were connected into a single plant though.
I want small divisions, just a few stalks each. I've learned that too large a division makes for a rootbound plant by the end of the winter, and even a single rooted stalk will form a good plant over the next few months.
So now I have all of my divisions:
I'm even going to do a more extreme test, and see if this tiny piece that broke off will live and grow:
I like to experiment when I have plenty of plant material like this. It helps me learn how careful (or careless) I can be when I do this again next year.
So now I just need to pot these up. Since they're grasses, it's pretty foolproof. I'm using "quart" sized nursery pots which I've saved from all of my plant purchases over the years, filled half or slightly less with some potting mix, and added some time-released fertilizer.
You have to pack the soil in pretty well, and although the depth at which it's planted is not too critical, you don't want to test the limits of the plant too much. I've found it's better to plant a little deeper than it seems like you should, then you can pull the plant out a little bit if needed. It's not really possible to force the plant deeper if you didn't plant it deep enough, and you can only add so much extra soil until you've got too much in the pot.
After repeating for each plant, I've got them under my grow lights now:
I like putting my indoor plants into these flat storage containers:
These containers allow me to water the plants without fear of runoff going everywhere, allow me to really deep water the plants if needed (by putting an inch or so of water in the tray) -- really handy if you need to leave the plants unattended for a few days or longer, or to rehydrate very dry soils, and also let me easily move all of the plants at once. If you can find a style that has straight walls and a flat bottom, those are perfect!
I'll know in a couple of days if I was successful with these divisions, as these cut ends will start elongating:
That's where the new grass blades will emerge first. Then new shoots will start forming from the base of the plant, sometimes emerging from the soil:
Once I see those new shoots on each division, I can relax, knowing that I have my purple fountain grass plants for next year.
As the plants grow I will probably give them a "haircut" a couple of times during the winter. I'm not concerned about the top growth too much, but I do want good masses of stalks and roots. I may divide these again in a couple of months if they're doing well so I can get even more plants, as I'm thinking of planting larger masses of these next year, something like this:
(Those were taken in Marina del Rey, California) I think the masses of the dark grasses are really impressive, and I'm hoping I can pull off something that looks this good in my yard next year.
But first things first: mass plantings require masses of plants, and I hope that's what I've got started today.
Like you, I love purple fountain grass, and many other pennisetums. We have three in pots and they overwinter fine in our climate but this year they're completely root-bound. Would you suggest dividing them now (and replanting them outside in pots) or wait until late winter (which is February here)? Since they're not really doing much growing right now, I'm tempted to wait until February.
If they're really not growing, then I don't think it makes any difference. Since you've got three though, you might want to divide one of them now and see if it makes any difference. That's what I would probably do (I like experimenting).
Frequent visitor to your blog (as in, its been added to my bookmark menu, and I visit daily) but slow to speak up. Had to finally, because I really wanted to share a website, if you all haven't found it on your own, yet. Its my favorite, for ornamental grasses. Check out the grass-scapes gallery. On dividing: http://www.bluestem.ca/dividing-grasses.htm
Thanks for the link! Bluestem is a great source for info on grasses it looks like. I wish the gallery images were larger though.
Alan, I'm reading your posts from the past. How did this work out? . I tried pulling a big pot of Purple Fountain Grass into the garage for the winter , but it didn't make it.I've been buying new plants every spring. Luckily, they are now available that the big box stores for about $5.
Sue -- this works great! I did several follow-up posts. The key is to keep these small divisions warm with plenty of light and water. Overwintering in a cool, dimly-lit garage didn't work for me.
I bought a couple of these, potted, at a nursery. My hope was to divide them, but they are really root bound. Can they still be divided and re-potted do you think? I'm only able to do container gardening where I'm at. Thanks in advance for an advice.
Nicole: I think they should be fine if you divide them -- grasses are so tough! Just make sure that the roots on the outside are still white and healthy. If they're brown and rotten then remove as much of those as you can.
Is it possible to protect purple fountain grass in a planting bed so it survives a Wisconsin winter? If so, what would you suggest?
Red or purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is hardy in zones 8 to 11 so it will not survive Wisconsin winters. Some gardeners have had success digging and potting up the plants to overwinter indoors. Keep the plants in a cool, not freezing, dark location with slightly moist soil. The goal is to keep the fountain grass dormant, not growing and not shriveling up, throughout the winter. In mid March, move the plants to a warm sunny location to get them started growing. Water as needed and fertilize with a dilute solution of any flowering plant fertilizer, once new growth appears. Harden off and move back outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. Gardeners in warmer regions should plant with caution as it does reseed and may become invasive.
While not the typical choice, grasses are very well suited for containers. They can be used as a tall centerpiece in an urn or planted solo in an oversized container. See 10 ways grasses are used in containers at Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Nashville.
Incorporate them into a Meadow
Through his designs, John Greenlee has earned a reputation as the master of ornamental grasses. He skillfully combines billowing grasses with dancing wildflowers, bulbs and other plants to create meadows that harmonize with the surrounding landscape. See how he created a Mediterranean meadow for this property in Woodside, California.
If you have the space, ornamental grasses are perfect for large groupings. Outside this contemporary home, a swath of native prairie blue grama grass was planted in lieu of a traditional mown lawn (see more of this Prairie Modern garden in North Dakota). If you aren’t ready to replace your lawn, start with groupings of odd numbers planted closely together. You’ll find that in multiples, grasses have much more impact.
Planting around a pool can be a tricky task and it is often neglected or done poorly. Here, Washington, D.C.-based landscape-architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden skillfully surrounded the pool with graceful grasses and perennials that creep over the coping, creating a pond-in-a-meadow atmosphere (see more of this garden: Hamptons Haven). Tip: Look for ornamental grasses that don’t drop much litter or else you’ll be constantly cleaning your pool.
Hillsides are another common garden challenge that can be addressed with ornamental grasses. The gardeners at Chanticleer, one of the nation’s most beloved gardens, avoided the urge to clutter this hill and instead selected a grass, the handsome native prairie dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis, to form a meadow. Get more ideas from Chanticleer.
Embrace Their Seasonality
In this garden, designed by Lisa Roth, tawny grasses exhibit autumn’s remarkable changes in depth, texture and color. She purposely selected varieties that would turn phosphorescent gold and mauve and planted them in generous drifts for the most seasonal impact. See more photos of this Pennsylvania garden in The Art of Autumn.
Grasses don’t always have to be the star of the show, in fact they make great supporting actors. In this front garden a simple planting of grasses and sedges forms a subtle, green backdrop for the rough, orange trunks of river birch trees. Get more inspiration from this sustainable garden: Growing Green in Pennsylvania.
Opt for a Hedge-Like Effect
Believe it or not, when planted imaginatively grasses can help create a sense of privacy for your garden without being too imposing. Select grasses that grow to a considerable height (pictured is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ which can reach four-feet) and plant them shoulder-to-shoulder like soldiers in the army. As the grasses mature, they will form a hedge-like barrier that can be used for a screen just about anywhere. See more ways to use hedges in your garden.
Savvy, creative gardeners can use grasses in their water-saving gardens to create an illusion of watery abundance. Choosing dry-adapted plants to accomplish this sleight of hand makes the illusion even more satisfying. Here are some tricks to keep up your sleeve.
Watch this short video to see how to use ornamental grasses in a small garden.
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.
I love ornamental grasses and have mixed many among my perennials, with dull results. How can I make this combination come alive?
Two years ago I planted a section of a perennial bed with half a dozen plants of a gorgeous blue fescue, but they haven’t filled in as I had hoped. Do they need richer soil, less sun, or what?
Related: Did you know that bamboo is a type of grass? Here's a guide to selecting & growing bamboo in your garden.
The white fountain grass was the first ornamental grass that I was introduced to many years ago since then I have learned about so many other ornamental grasses which are grown and made available for our use. The white fountain grass is another ornamental beauty that is worth our attention.
This grass has also earned its way on the list of ornamental grasses that has and is making an impact. I have seen these plants used on so many landscapes and garden designs as I drive around the county. The five-star resort where I was employed several years ago used these grasses on its grounds to create beautiful designs.
In my opinion, the white fountain grass once installed in groups gives a sense of the presence of water. Below, we will be looking at a few places these plants can be installed, with that said let’s discuss this ornamental beauty that has given amazing results.
An area that gets full to partial sunlight makes the ideal spot for your white fountain grass. These plants can reach heights of 4-5 ft.
The soil type should be soil that drains well, the use of organic soil mix is a good choice for drainage.
When first installed give your white fountain grass water twice a week. Once established these grasses are drought tolerant. Under extreme drought conditions if your fountain grass shows signs of stress then give them a drink of water.
Fertilize your white fountain grass with a liquid feed fertilizer during the growing season. I have seen fountain grass thriving without the use of fertilizers but it is good if you prefer to feed your fountain grass giving them the boost which they need.
Garden pests to keep an eye out for are.
The white fountain grass is hardy grass but snails and slugs may pay your fountain grass a visit. To control these garden pests the use of snail or slug bites will offer some help. These garden pests will eat parts of your fountain grass.
Mealybugs are a garden insect pest that causes damage by sucking the fluids from the leaves of garden plants. The mouthparts of these sucking insect pests are like a hypodermic needle. With their needle-like mouth, they pierce the leaves and feed on the plant’s fluids. To bring these garden insects best under control the use of neem oil or insecticidal soap will help. Before applying chemicals read and follow the manufacturer’s label because the label is the law.
Keep a watch out for white fountain grass rust and root rot
This disease shows up as a rust color on the stems and the leaves. Wet conditions will encourage this disease that’s why it is good that your grass has good air circulation. Proper spacing will help with this, also soil that drains well will go a long way in helping your grass not to contract this disease.
It is best to catch the disease at first sighting because this will ensure that your grass recovers quickly. Remove the infected parts and treat them with a fungicide. A sharp hedge shear is a great tool for this job. Sterilize your shears with bleach and water after each use to avoid the spread of this disease.
Properly dispose of the leaves which were removed. It is recommended to continue to remove the leaves until there is no trace or sign of this disease.
Remember fountain grass are drought resistant at maturity, these ornamental grasses can survive on very little water. Giving them more than the required water can bring on root rot. Discontinue watering and treating or drenching the soil with a fungicide may offer some help.
Here are a few ideas on where to install the white fountain grass.
A great way to grow white fountain grass is from containers. When growing these grasses from containers ensure that the container is large enough to accommodate your grass. The soil should be well-drained soil, adding organic soil mix will help with drainage. Ensure that the container has drain holes
Fertilize with a liquid feed during the growing season and follow the manufactures direction for proper use of fertilizers. These containers can be placed on your porch or patio in full-partial sunlight.
With the arrival of the colder months, you may notice that your fountain grass is changing color, not to worry, this is not a disease but rather your white fountain grass is beginning to go into a dormant period. The white to yellowish color is just a sign that your grass is about to take a long winter’s nap in preparation for the next growing season when it will bounce back to its former glory.
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The white fountain grass can be used to create so many pleasing garden designs. These ornamental grasses are low maintenance and will fit right into your budget. If you are looking for a plant that will work wonders sprucing up your garden and landscaping area then I recommend this ornamental grass. The white fountain grass a grass that is easy to maintain while bringing that needed flavor.