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Beautiful Grasses for the Dry Garden

The purple fountain grass, known by the botanical names Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’, is a beautiful and useful grass to add to your landscape. Its foot-long plumes of golden and burgundy seed heads wave in the breeze above the clumping green and maroon foliage. These inflorescences are long lasting and persist through the summer and into the fall. The seed heads are sterile and therefore won’t cause a problem with re-seeding grasses all over your yard!

Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ is in the grass family, Poaceae. This clumping grass is originally from Africa and grows 3-4′ tall and 2-4′ wide, providing movement and texture in your garden. Purple fountain grass is particularly well suited to coastal gardens with ocean breezes. However, it is however susceptible to frost, which is another reason it does well in coastal locations where the winters are milder. In warmer regions it is a perennial grass, but in colder, inland areas with winter frosts it can be treated as an annual. Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ is well suited to annual planting, as it is fast growing.

Buy Purple Fountain Grass at Evergreen Nursery in San LeandroPurple fountain grass is tolerant of grazing by deer, another reason it is well suited to Bay Area gardens! The grass looks best when planted in full sun, in drifts lining a pathway, in a parking strip, or throughout a planting border. Individual grasses are also effective when used as an accent plant in a mixed shrub and perennial border. It is best when planted near evergreen or deciduous shrubs, which provide a year-round backbone for the garden. Therefore, when the purple fountain grass is cut back during the late winter, the garden will still have plenty of other interest to draw the eye.

Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ is a valuable addition to a Mediterranean or dry garden. It is moderately drought tolerant and heat resistant, although it will look its best if given some summer water. This grass is easy to care for, but be sure to wear gloves when handling the grass blades or cutting them back, as they can cut your fingers.

Purple fountain grass works well in habitat and wildlife gardens and near water features. It also mixes well into the slightly wild English cottage gardens, grown with colorful perennials such as Echinacea purpurea or Liatris spicata, whose pink or white structural flowers beautifully complement the purple seed heads.

USDA Zones: 8-12.


Planting and Care for PennisetumRubrum

  • Plant in full sun.
  • Plant in soil with good drainage.
  • Amend heavy soils with Greenall’s Firmulch to improve drainage.
  • Performs best with some summer water.
  • Water infrequently once established.
  • Mulch around plants to conserve water and suppress weeds.
  • Fertilize with a mild organic fertilizer in the spring or when planting, such as E.B. Stone Organics All-Purpose Plant Food.
  • Cut back grass to an inch or two above the ground in late winter. Plants will grow back fresh and invigorated in the spring.