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Growing Pennisetum

Grow Decorative Grass In Your Home Garden and Make A Statement!

by Frances Santos

Growing PennisetumPennisetum is native to Africa including Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Zaire, Ethiopa, and other tropical regions all over the world.

These plants are large annual or perennial grasses that can grow up to 4 meters tall. Pennisetums are graceful and decorative grass with plumes that resemble bottle brushes during summer.

The foliage arches near its tip, endowing it with a graceful fountain-like shape.

General Uses of Pennisetum

There are several uses of Pennisetum depending on variety. Fountain Grasses are ornamental, Pearl Millet is grown as food, and Kikuya Grasses are pastured.

Pennisetums are commonly use as food for livestock and herbivores, but oftentimes varieties like Fountain Grass, Feathertop Grass and Kikuyu Grass may tend to become invasive weeds. In Australia and Hawaii, these creeping grasses are difficult to control and can be a nuisance. Kikuyu in particular is extremely competitive and is not companionable with other grasses.

In gardening, Fountain grass is commonly used to make a dramatic statement for landscaping. It can be used as foundation plant, specimen, in a group or for bordering. It is ideal for a desert or rock garden or any low-maintenance area. It can also be used as a ground cover. Fountain grass plumes are favorite additional to fresh and dried floral arrangements. Many fountain grasses like Chinese fountain grass and oriental fountain grass are grown as garden plants.

Pennisetum Propagation

Pennisetum members like fountain grasses are propagated by division and by seeds.

Propagation by Division of Root Clumps
Division is known as the best way to propagate Pennisetum because most of the cultivars do not produce seeds. When spring comes, it’s the perfect time to divide root clumps. Pennisetums self-seed in warm climates.

Starting Seeds Outdoors
This should be done during the first few months of spring. First, cover the seedlings lightly with soil. The soil must be most, fertile and has good drainage. Seeds germinate in 14 to 21 days. Fountain grasses should be transplanted in sunny parts of the garden.

Starting Seeds Indoors
Start seeds indoors seven weeks in advance. The seeds will take about 2-4 weeks to germinate at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. After the germination process, you can already transplant the seedlings into your garden with about 50-90 cm spacing in between. Transplanting must be done a week before the last frost of spring.

How to Grow Pennisetum

Pennisetums only require basic needs to grow: warm temperature, full sun, well-drained soil, and water. They tolerate light shades but this may diminish both growth and flowering performance. Pennisetums also grow best in moist soil so water them regularly during dry season, preferably every two weeks. For optimal growth, use a soil mix composing of loam and sand. Follow 2:1 ratio.

Pennisetum Care

Pennisetums are very drought resistant but it is best to water and feed them once a week during growing season. In colder areas, add mulch to protect the roots. For perennial Pennisetum species, cutting the plants down to the ground right after the last frost of spring is recommended to encourage new growth.

Pests and Diseases

Kikuyu is often afflicted by “Kikuyu yellows” during summer, specifically in many regions in Australia. It is a destructive disease that injures the roots. Other Pennisetum diseases include leaf-spot, black spot, and rust. Pests that commonly attack Pennisetum are tropical sod web worms, arthropods, army worms, black beetle, soldier fly, pasture scarab beetle, hunting billbug, yellow sugarcane aphid, and Kikuyu grass bug.