Pennisetum – Fountain Grass

Zone: 6-9

Light Requirements: Full sun

Soil Preference: Prefers medium moisture well drained soils.

Pests/Disease: No serious insect or disease problems but can self-seed aggressively.

Attributes: A warm season, clump forming, ornamental grass native to Africa and Asia growing from 1’ to 6’ depending on cultivar. These grasses grow in flowing, fountain shapes and feature bottlebrush flowers and varying foliage color. Pennisetum thrive in heat and humidity and are virtually maintenance free. While the many pennisetum species can be broken up into both annual and perennial selections, even the “hardy” specimens are marginal to our zone.  

Our Experience: As Pennisetum is marginal to our zone, we use this grass for texture, contrast and color annually in beds and containers. As the name depicts, the flower spikes look like water spraying from a fountain adding a beautiful plumage to the seasonal garden. We most often utilize pennisetum ‘rubrum’ for its long-lasting red fall foliage and red-burgundy flower plumes.

Miscanthus- Silver grass

Zone: 4-9

Light Requirements: Full sun to part shade

Soil Preference: Prefers average, well drained soils.

Pests/Disease: Can develop blight and mealy bugs. Self seeding can become an issue unless a sterile variety is utilized.

Attributes: Miscanthus is a genus of grass native to Asia with 20 species resulting in over a hundred cultivars. This family grows anywhere from 3’ to 12’ with large, lush plumes and arching foliage. These grasses are cold hardy and rugged featuring a wide range of foliar colors and flowering times making them ideal as both bedding plants as well as additions to seasonal urns and containers.

Our Experience: Due to proliferation of the species, there are many varieties cold hardy to our zone in the north east. Miscanthus x giganteus is one of the largest hybrids, growing to over 12’ with a sterile seed. Miscanthus sinensis ‘gracillimus’ has thin foliage that features a silver midrib. Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ is a popular dwarf variety, and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ known as “zebra grass” features foliage with horizontal yellow banding on the leaves.

Panicum- Switchgrass

Zone: 5-9

Light Requirements: Full sun to Part shade

Soil Preference: Average, medium to wet soils

Pests/Disease: Crown rot, rust, japanese beetles and spider mites.

Attributes: Panicum are a large genus of species that are north American native growing wildly in prairies, marshes, woodlands and riverbanks. Panicum grasses are clump forming grasses that spread via rhizomatus roots. These grasses grow anywhere from 3’ to 8’ depending on cultivar and have variable foliar colors from green to blue to red. They are a durable lot, adaptable to a variety of soil and light conditions. The seeds of panicum miliaceum produce millet which is used currently to feed livestock and for biofuel

Our Experience: The most widely used panicum in our region is panicum virgatum. This genus has several cultivars, the most popular of which bloom in the fall and display foliar color during the fall as well. Panicum ‘Purple Tears’ has a grey tinged foliage and purple seed heads. Panicum ‘Ruby Ribbons’ has a deep red fall color, and Panicum ‘Summer Sunrise’ has an abundance of soft pink seed heads in the fall. While these cultivars are suitable for beds and borders alike, we feature the great majority of our grasses in seasonal urn displays.