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Mississippi Gardens Newsletter ArchivesPurple Fountain Grass has numerous use
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - June 2, 2003

In times past, when we would think of adding grasses to the landscape we were almost always considering Monkey Grass (Liriope sp.) or Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon sp.) for borders and edges. If we wanted something larger it would undoubtedly be Pampas Grass. However, in recent years, maybe the last ten, there has been an upsurge in the availability of other outstanding ornamental grasses that really bring some fantastic diversity, motion and mystique to Mississippi gardens.

There are many new ornamental grasses we could discuss here. Some are large and some are small. Most are perennial and a few are annuals. Perhaps the most popular of the ornamental grasses is one known as Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'). It is most noted for its rich, red burgundy colored foliage and the long, slender flower racemes that give the appearance of a flowing fountain. The flowers' plumes are typically 12 to 15 inches long and held above the foliage. The entire plant may reach five feet tall and two to four feet wide.

The opportunities to use Purple Fountain Grass in the landscape are numerous. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but will tolerate a little shade. It is frequently used in groups or as a specimen in foundations, public gardens, roadway medians, etc., where it is quite stunning and requires little care. It's ability to withstand high temperatures, high humidity, drought, wind, acidic or alkaline soils only make it more desirable and easily the dominant ornamental grass in Southern landscapes. In addition to its beauty and durability it is virtually pest free!

A more compact version of Purple Fountain Grass is often available by the name of 'Eaton Canyon'. It is used mainly in small garden plots or as the centerpiece of a container garden. 'Eaton Canyon' is very similar to 'Rubrum' yet it grows to about 30 inches and has slightly finer foliage. A larger type of fountain grass is 'Burgundy Giant'. While not as widely used as its two cousins it does feature larger flowers and one-inch wide leaves with deep burgundy color.

Purple Fountain Grass should not be confused with a grass known as 'Red Baron' (Imperata cylindrica). Although 'Red Baron' has burgundy foliage it is a cousin of the invasive Cogon Grass and is under close scrutiny by Agriculture Departments in southern states.

There is one last important point to note about the Purple Fountain grasses. They must be treated as annuals since they will not tolerate temperatures below 40 degrees. Although we wish they were hardy perennials, unfortunately they must be reestablished each spring. This is a great time to add this outstanding performer to your landscape. Happy Gardening!

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These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.