Purple Fountain Grass: The plant, the care and the inspiration.


An eye-catching fall favorite and highly rated choice for any grass lover or plant enthusiast!

Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum’ (to most people known as Red or Purple Fountain Grass and pronounced pen-i-SEE-tum se-TAY-see-um RU-brum) is an essential addition to the fall landscape. It provides bold color, a dark contrast against lighter colors in your display, wonderful texture and even some gentle movement when there’s a breeze to beds, containers or just stationed about your porch for fall decoration. Let me tick off the number of reasons why it’s so popular, it’s: an easy plant to take care of, sterile so it is not invasive, deer resistant and the perfect fall color! Not only is it a beautiful plant, but it gets even more interesting with age. It’s best known and most easily recognized feature are its fluffy burgundy plumes. This is actually where it gets its name. In Latin penna means “feather”, seta means “bristle” and rubrum comes from the Latin word for the color red. Feathery, red bristles!

In most planting zones Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ is grown as a long lasting annual, though there are many other beautiful perennial varieties of the larger genus Pennisetum on the market that are relatively easy to find. The uniqueness of this one comes with the color. Most other Pennisetums do not come in such a bold red! They last from the moment you plant them to the first hard frost. They can be overwintered indoors, though most people opt to buy new ones every year as they are relatively inexpensive. To overwinter, you can grow them indoors in a window that gets full sun for 6 hours a day, though this can be a problem because of its size. Pennisetum ‘Rubrums’ typically mature to a size of about 4’ tall and 4’ wide and not everyone has an area that large to overwinter a plant. Solving this is easy. You can cut the grass down to mere inches above the ground without killing the plant and allow it to grow back indoors over the winter before planting it out again in May or after the last chance of frost.


Growing any Fountain Grass is a cinch! They love the sun and planting them in full sun (6 hours of direct sunlight or more) will produce the best results. This is also the trick to enhancing the bold red color. If the plant is not getting enough sun or being starved of some other need, they may start to fade and lose the color that they are so well known for. This is why Purple Fountain Grass is normally grown in the sun even though it can tolerate a shadier environment if needed. Water well until the plant is established and can fend for itself. Helpful Hint: in pots and planters it is more important to water regularly since the root system only has a limited amount of space to pull moisture from. You may need to water containers with Fountain Grasses a couple times a week if that week has been very warm and sunny without much rainfall. Remember to enrich your soil when planting inground. They do need a moderately rich soil to thrive and enriching the ground with any type of compost or Bumper Crop will not only reduce your need for frequent waterings (adding any organic material to the soil will help it retain a proper moisture level), but give your Purple Fountain Grass the nutrients it needs to stun you with excellent growth. Most potting soils are designed to provide the needed drainage, so adding compost to pots is not always recommended. Adding to already mixed soils can throw off the balance of weight and water retention. In pots, a good balanced fertilizer will do the trick. Something like Jack’s All-Purpose Fertilizer (20-20-20) would be a perfect choice!

Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ looks gorgeous in specimen plantings, imagine a full pot of red grass as a striking architectural piece. In pots among other varieties of grass or flowers, they can add so much texture or needed height. You can even make a group or mass planting, add some graceful movement or create an elegant border in an existing bed. The plumes can even be cut and added to fresh or dried arrangements.

There is so much to learn when it comes to plants, but hopefully these few paragraphs will help lovers of this bold grass to grow theirs with confidence and inspire newcomers to the fan club to fall in love with this amazing plant.

Happy Gardening!