Pennisetum is a genus of annual and perennial ornamental grasses from tropical and temperate regions of the world. Some popular species from this genus include millet, grain and some fodder plants. These ornamental grasses are known for their foliage and flowers that really add ornamental value to gardens and landscapes.
Pennisetum are generally tough, drought-tolerant and easily grown plants. They usually grow in small clumps and produce soft, feathery inflorescence in late summer. Most species of Pennisetum are frost hardy in tropical climates; however they need protection from long winters of cold regions. These plants prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. In their native climate, these plants can withstand drought and require only moderate watering.
Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum', Image by Matt Lavin
Some of the popular species of Pennisetum include:
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (Fountain Grass) – Grows up to 1 meter and produces rose-colored flowers on long spikes in summer.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (Dwarf Fountain Grass) – Relatively smaller species (50 to 75 cm) with small clumps of grassy leaves; grows in almost any soil. Prefers full sun and a little moist soil. Flowers appear in late summer.
Pennisetum orientale (Oriental Fountain Grass) – Ornamental grass with fresh green leaves that grow up to 75 cm. This species produces white, feathery flowers and prefers partial sun, moist soil and a regular soil mix with good drainage.
Ornamental grasses are my favorite landscape design elements because of the variety of color, texture and dramatic effect that grasses can add. They can be used for many purposes as well: as groundcovers, as design elements, as companion plants, as specimen plants or even as decorative hedges in gardens. The best part of growing ornamental grasses is low-maintenance as most grasses are not fussy about soil or moisture. Hence, native ornamental grasses make a good choice if you are planning a low-maintenance garden.
Since grasses do not have special requirements, you can select from a broad range of species and varieties, however, best results are achieved only if you select the right type of grass for your needs. Some grasses tend to grow taller whereas some species are really low-growing grasses. Some would form very dense clumps, and some would form large mounds. Some grasses are slow-growing and vertical growth habit, and some ornamental grasses spread horizontally as ground covers or grass-carpets.
If you are designing a rock garden, you can select from a variety of grasses that would grow in rock pocket. Similarly, if you are planning some unique style of hedge, screen or divider in your garden, you can grow taller grasses with vertical growth habit.
Besides the color, texture and size, you should also consider the spot that you selected for growing grasses. Generally a sunny spot is good for growing ornamental grasses.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’
How to Grow Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses can withstand periods of drought easily, however, young plants should be provided with sufficient water regularly until they establish themselves. Growth can be encouraged by mulching. Use general purpose fertilizer only when new growth starts. As far as propagation is concerned, most grasses can be propagated from divisions. Generally, spring is good time to divide grasses. For healthy foliage and inflorescence, make sure that your grasses receive good exposure of sunlight.
Some grasses have razor-sharp ‘leaves’; handle them with care to avoid cuts.
Popular species of ornamental grasses include:
1. Arundinaria disticha
Grows as evergreen dwarf foliage plant. Leaves are bright-green with a tinge of purple. Provide average water and bright sunlight. (Zone 6a – 9b)
2. Arundo danox (Spanish reed)
Grows as tall (up to 6 meters), leafy-clumps in tropical climates. Characterized by broad marginal leaves, this perennial grass produces feathery inflorescence in autumn. (Zone 6a – 10b)
While ornamental grasses will look great in your garden, if you are opting for an easier to maintain solution you might also want to consider investing in a really good quality artificial lawn available from suppliers like greatgrass.co. These days, artificial grass looks just as life-like as real grass and with a minimal amount of upkeep, it can be great value for money.