Last Updated on June 12, 2023 by Real Men Sow
You’ll want ornamental grass that is easy to maintain and can provide year-round interest and shelter for animals while being deer resistant. Fountain grass and other ornamental grasses work well in natural, casual settings, providing vertical interest. They can also soften formal landscapes if used with care.
Fountain grass can grow to 3 feet in height and width. It produces stunning silver- or pink-tinged flowers from late summer through fall. They have a bottlebrush-shaped shape and fall outwards, resembling water flowing from a fountain. The leaves are green in summer, and turn yellow in fall. The foliage turns a soft brown in winter and can be kept standing throughout the winter. The leaves can be left standing to add winter interest and shelter birds.
How To Plant Fountain Grass
Fountain grass can be grown from either nursery transplants or directly outside after the last frost. To keep the soil moist, water it often if you are growing from seeds. Fountain grass should be planted in full sun to get the best results. However, it can also tolerate partial shade. To improve drainage, amend the soil with manure or compost. Fountain grass can be planted as a single plant or in a large group. It should have plenty of space to spread.
Fountain grass can tolerate drought, once it is established. However, it prefers to be in slightly moist soil. Because it is not sensitive to moisture, fountain grass can be planted in areas near ponds and other wet areas. Use 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer to fertilize fountain grass in spring. They may not require additional fertilizing if they are next to a well-manicured lawn.
In late winter, trim fountain grass to 3 inches above the soil line. If they get too thick or unruly, divide the plants every 3-4 years. Grab the plants and shave them with a knife. To encourage new growth, replant the pieces and water them.
Propagation of Fountain Grass
Some varieties of Pennisetum are marketed as sterile. These include purple fountain grass and P. alopecuroides Etouffee, ‘Hush Puppy’ and ’Cayenne’. These plants can’t be propagated from seeds.
You can sow indoors in the early spring if you wish to grow fountain grass seed. A fertile seed-starting mix should be used to fill three- to four-inch pots and 10-by-20-inch trays. Plant one to two seeds in each pot. If you prefer, space the seeds 3 to 4 inches apart on trays. Only cover the seeds with soil.
You can also start seeds outdoors once the last frost date has passed. This will allow you to follow the same spacing guidelines as for pots and ground.
Make sure to water the soil well until germination takes place. The seedlings should be ready to go in two to three weeks. After seedlings have been established, you can allow the soil to dry between waterings. It’s safe to take the plants outside when they are only two weeks old. You can start to harden them by placing them outside for one hour the first day. Then, increase the time outside by one hour each day until they are able to spend the whole day outside.
These plants are clumping and can be spread underground by rhizomes. You should wait until spring or late winter to divide mature fountain grass plants for new growth. This will allow your plants to establish themselves before the summer heat gets too intense.
The soil must be warm enough for you to work in, and your plants need to be either dormant or just beginning to show signs of spring growth. Start by removing any top growth that is more than two- to three inches above soil line.
If possible, remove the entire root ball from the plant. Use a shovel to get around the edges. You may have to cut sections of the plant, especially if it is extremely old or large. You can always ask a friend for help.
To create new plants, only divide from the outside edge of the root ball. Avoid old growth in the middle. You can use your shovel to remove roots that measure at least 3 inches in diameter. Once you have divided the parent, replant it. To transplant divisions, you can follow the same steps as other transplants. You should plant them at the same depth they were growing before.
You will need to dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the container in which you are currently planting your transplants. For adequate airflow, ensure that you leave at least three feet between plants.
Take them out of their containers and loosen the roots. Place the transplant in the hole by adding a little compost. The crown should be placed slightly below the soil line. Fill the remaining hole with soil, and then water well.
Pruning and Maintenance of Fountain Grass
You can divide your plants once every three years to help invigorate them. However, you can still prune your plants in late winter or early spring, regardless of whether you are planning to take new divisions.
You should wear gloves because the blades of these plants are sharp. Fountain grass will not start growing every year until the soil is warm enough. Therefore, you should allow time for last year’s growth to be cut back before new shoots emerge.
Even in warmer climates, plants should naturally die back as part of their growing cycle. A pair of hedge trimmers can be used to trim plants to a height of three to six inches above ground. Purchase infertile cultivars to prevent seeding.
If you’re not able to catch them all, plan to do some weeding in the next season to remove any unwanted plants. Although annuals grown in cooler areas will die back after the season ends, container-grown perennials may survive the winter. Potted plants can be brought inside in winter in cooler areas and kept in a cool basement or another cool place while they are dormant. They can then be brought out when temperatures rise.
Pests and Diseases of Fountain Grass
Fountain grasses are not susceptible to insects or disease like other grasses. Overwintering them is the biggest problem in cold climates. They might survive if they are planted near your house or surrounded with other plants. If they are not grown near your house, you can grow them as an annual. They can become unruly in warm climates and spread further than you would like. To keep them in check, plant them in an area with a physical boundary or divide them in spring.