Purple Fountain Grass

northtexasgirl(z8 FTW)October 5, 2004

I saw a picture of this somewhere and can't remember where. Does anyone grow this and if so, how would you rate it as an ornamental grass? Which grasses are your favorites? Thanks for the info. :)


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In my zone 5, it is only an annual. My loss, because I love this grass. It stays upright all summer long, with the "flowers" swaying gently in the breezes. No pests or diseases that I have seen. Next spring, I am planning on buying a truckload. LOL

    Bookmark   October 5, 2004 at 11:40PM
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grammahony(ECentral NEz5)

I love this grass too. An annual for me as well. $$$ Here, at least where I got mine from, it was about $30.00 for a 10" pot of it. But it does so good, I replace it every year. It makes a nice full upright clump. Then I toss a piece of bleached out driftwood in front of it. Looks so pretty all summer.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2004 at 9:16AM
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sjm2757(zone 5 OH)

I have been growing this grass for several years. It is an annual in my zone so I replace it every year. I can buy 6-inch pots for about 5-6 dollars. It takes a few weeks for it to get to max height but today it is about 5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. I have had several people stop at my house to ask what kind of grass it is; they say that it really looks nice.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2004 at 12:59PM
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grammahony(ECentral NEz5)

Must be different than the one I get, as mine only gets about 3 foot tall at most.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2004 at 4:32PM
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sjm2757(zone 5 OH)

The flowers are part of the 5 feet. The foliage is about 4 feet.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2004 at 8:16PM
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dottyinduncan(z8b coastal BC)

Is this an annual in the PNw? I've seen it in pots lately and it's lovely. Do you buy seeds in the spring, or plugs?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2004 at 8:33PM
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grammahony(ECentral NEz5)

I guess the nurseries see me coming. I do buy new in the spring. They are usually in black 10" pots or so.
sjm, I guess with the plums they'd be between 4' &5' tall.
I usually always break down and get one each year for the front yard. I tried Karley Rose this year. We'll see if it comes back in the spring. I am waiting for the ground to get a little colder to cover it. Just an experiment.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2004 at 3:01PM
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OH, Leslie, let me know how your experiment turns out. I love my purple fountain grass in a large pot, but could'nt figure how to try & save it. Maybe I could just put it into the garage? But then it would freeze here in Michigan, Zone 5. Whatever you suggest I would love to try. Audrey

    Bookmark   October 31, 2004 at 12:03AM
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joan_5(4 and 5)

I have heard you can winter purple fountain grass over by potting them and bringing them in as a house plant. I use
mine as a container plant anyway, which helps. However, I love the plant so much I also am going to use it at a corner of a garden in plain view of the house.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2004 at 2:32PM
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marcy345(6 WA)

I fell in love with this grass this year and collected tons of seeds. I was first told the seed was sterile and then a kind lady said it isn't sterile just has low germination. She said she had new babies around her mother plant! She was offering seeds on the seed exchange. Needless to say, I'm planting these seeds!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2004 at 11:50PM
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I wouldn't hold my breath on those seeds - the various cultivars of purple fountain grass (and yes, there is both a "compact" and taller growing form) are known for their very low seed viability. Low to the point of being considered sterile. Pennisetum setaceum is highly invasive in many areas because it self-seeds so freely, but the purple leafed forms are sold without reservation in these same areas simply because they do not produce seedlings. And the rare seedlings they might produce will be tend to be green, not purple colored. The only reliable method of propagating this grass is by division.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2004 at 9:56AM
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Is it feasible to trim down and divide a mature plant in late fall, pot the divisions up and over-winter them inside?

    Bookmark   November 2, 2004 at 11:56AM
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Feasible yes, but maybe not very probable. Many of the warm season grasses will enter a period of root dormancy in mid to late fall which makes transplanting or dividing them at this time problematical. If you are wanting to overwinter this grass, I think you'd have much better luck leaving it intact for the the winter in a frost-free location and cutting back and dividing next spring when you begin to see new growth developing. Might be helpful to note that success with overwintering this grass is pretty inconsistant.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2004 at 1:08PM
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garden_nerd(UK Central)

How about if I can lift the plant with an intact rootball and put it in a pot for winter? I thought it was less risky to do this kind of thing when plants are dormant? Worth a try, anyway. Where are these plants native to? In the UK mine have grown slowly, but we have had a wet, cool summer.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2004 at 3:21PM
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Westview(Zone 8, N. TX)

Hi NorthTexasGirl, where do you live--I live in Denton. I find tons of purple fountain grass at Home Depot, Lowes and Calloways (more expensive) in
the spring. I use it as backgrounds in my containers. I get so many comments on it from the neighbors. If any of you ever want to try a neat arrangement--get a 16 or 24" container, plant a small fountain grass in back (grows fast) and put a draping type of large flowered purslane in front of it. (I just buy a hanging basket of the kind I like and turn it out of its basket and plant it in the container. It will look fantastic until frost and you can plant it as early as they start selling the purslane since the fountain grass is available even earlier. Of course you can use it in containers a million ways but you should have heard the compliments on those put next to the front sidewalk. When the fountain grass starts blooming it is just fantastic. I did find that toward the end of the summer, it was a good idea to put a stake in back and lightly tie the grass together with green twine or twist tie especially after our unseasonable rain because it tends to fall over, but that worked just fine and people can't see the tie from any distance at all.

NTG--if you live in Denton let me know, I may have seen your place in my spring wanderings looking at people's gardens.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2004 at 1:04PM
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Yeah, this grass is very good looking... takes off late spring and hangs til the winter. Mine is so huge right now that is has flopped over. I staked and tied it, and yes, you cant tell from a distance.

I always get compliments myself, even if it is sorta common around here.

Right when spring comes, I chop it across down to maybe a foot tall.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2004 at 4:52PM
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I loved this grass last year, but I am a little dissappointed that it hasn't come back this year. I was sold four 10 inch pots of it this fall, and was told that it was perineal. Where I live it is an annual. Now they have my $50, and I've got four dead plants. I can't believe they sold it to me in the late fall knowing it would be dead in a few months.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2005 at 10:09AM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

I buy a lot of stuff at late season plant sales just before the garden centers close. If I can't plant them in the ground I just put them in my cold room for the winter and water them once or twice so the roots dont' dry out. I've overwintered ferns, perennial flowers and grasses like that with no losses. Here where I live the garage can get to minus 30 celcius so that's no good for over wintering and you will crack your nice pots too, so a cold cellar is perfect.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2005 at 1:43PM
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Well, I guess it's worth a try to overwinter it in my garage this fall as it certainly will die out in the yard. I love it and it looks so pretty near my Japanese Red Maple tree and festuca and various varieties of coleus.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2005 at 6:46AM
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Europeprincess(z9 Houston)

Does anyone know if it as a perenial in Clearlake/Galveston, Texas?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2005 at 5:26PM
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chrisrobt(z8 MI,WA)

I just bought a 6" pot from Home Depot ($5) and was told by one of the workers that despite being labelled a perennial, it will die out over the winter. However, all their perennials have a one year guarantee, so if I kept the reciept and brought in the dead plant next spring, they would replace it or refund my money. Do you suppose I can do this annually???


    Bookmark   July 23, 2005 at 6:52PM
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LOL. That is a good idea. I was recenty at my local HD and they were selling Purple Fountain Grass like crazy to unsuspecting shoppers. The tag said perennial and contained no zone hardiness information. It really aggravated my to see so many people being taken advantage of. Not to mention all of the Hosta they are selling that contain the Hosta-X virus. I may do what you have suggested.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2005 at 12:57PM
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I agree - HD shouldn't claim the things they do without paying for it - BUT - I spoke to a plant grower and he said that big box stores that take back plants (HD and Walmart) won't sell a growers product unless they will take back or refund ALL loses! So besides us returning dead plants the grower also has to take back (or pay for) the plants the kids/clerks at these stores kill by not watering! Try to buy from smaller farms and they will tell you the truth (I hope)! Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 11:02AM
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kathie_mi(z5 MI)

I overwintered my purple fountain grass in my house this winter and it did ok, although started drying out, but it did bloom up until about March. Then my cat started liking it, so I moved it to a different room. It is outside now and seems to be getting new leaves. I also left one outside over the winter [a small one] and mulched it heavily and covered it until about April. It doesn't look like it is alive, but I will let you know. I am in Michigan Zone 5.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 11:03PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Purple fountain grass is one of the short list of plants that really bothers me that won't grow here. By grow I mean as a perennial. I grew up in Phoenix AZ where it grows like a weed but does not reseed like the green does.

I'm sure it would be hardy in Galveston but hope that person found their answer long ago ;)

I buy them every year at Home Depot for cheap and mourn their passing every winter. I don't have anywhere to try to keep them alive.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 12:07PM
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ok,im bumping this thread...lol
on purple fountain grass,what can you do to save this over the winter?
I know bring it indoors would help but how to do this?Im thinking maybe top it(prune it)to the ground then dig up then pot and bring in for the winter?
Its sold here in southern missouri as a perrenial but im thinking its not going to make it so how to make it survive the winter is the next task.
Has anyone tried leaving it in the ground then making a one plant green house on top of it or does it have to be brought indoors for sure?
I have a unheated front porch that should stay above the 10 dergrees its said to withstand.
It came from oklahome from a tri-b nursury and they call it a perrenial.
Any more help with these beatiful grasses?

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 9:26AM
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I bought three 3 gallon containers in April of this year to landscape my pool that was just put in. I had NO IDEA how fast they would grow, and how much they would fill in. I absolutely love the way they look. Literature says they grow up to 4 feet, but mine are over 6 feet now. Here is a photo of how they look. The ones on the right side are actually two planted about 5-7 feet apart. From that agle, they look like one, but is it two. BTW, I live just south of Houston.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2006 at 3:42PM
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Tri-B was right to call them perennials, since they are perennials. Problem is they are tender perennial grasses. Zone 9 is a sure thing, zone 8 depends on the winter, zone 7 is too cold for Rubrum to come back. In zone 8 they will come back, but be very week after a colder winter. They are such fast growers that the best thing to do is start them as early in spring as weather permits from small, less expensive plants. Like Richard said, they grow fast, so don't bother spending $ on larger pots unless you need the instant filled in look. BTW...pool planting looks great! Rubrum works so well with stone and natural materials.
As for overwintering...I still feel like its a lot of work when you can start these from a $2 or $3 plant. If you really want to overwinter, cut back to the hard culms and bring inside to a 40 deg plus environment. 10 deg will kill the plant. It really should have 40 plus to come back well. The temp greenhouse cover would be intriguing to try, but I have to think it would cost more than a new start in spring. IMHO.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 2:45PM
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Darn! I think I just bought 6 of these plants at a local garden store. I was attracted to the color. They had no tags on them, so I had no idea that they weren't hardy in this area until I started an internet search. The salesclerk didn't say anything of course. I really love them and am very disappointed that they are not perennial here. They're still in the pots, so I suppose I could bring them back. There's no chance of them surviving in CT? Is there anything that looks similar that would survive?

    Bookmark   September 24, 2007 at 2:51PM
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No chance of them surviving in CT.

I like Panicum Shenandoah...nice burgundy coloring.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2007 at 5:33PM
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i live in northwest tennessee.does purple fountian grass survive the winter outside in my zone?7a

    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 8:42PM
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Nope, will not survive a northwest Tenn winter.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 10:07PM
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Some guy in my neighborhood has this grass growing. He has had it fro quite some time. All he does is cut it in December and mulches it, it comes back every Spring.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 10:38PM
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I seriously doubt what your neighbor is growing is really purple fountain grass. Even in my pretty mild zone 8/9 location, it has NEVER successfully overwintered in the ground while many other marginally hardy plants do so with relative ease. And that includes planting in very well-drained and somewhat protected containers that easily accommodate other tender perennials all winter. I've had pelargoniums (window box and ivy geraniums) overwinter more readily than purple fountain grass. This grass is quite cold sensitive and generally won't tolerate much more than a couple of light frosts - lower than the upper 20's, it's toast. Even a good mulching doesn't seem to extend its cold tolerance.

There are other purple leaved grasses that are cold hardy, although not quite as dramatically colored as the fountain grass - I'd bet it is one of these.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2007 at 9:37AM
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Your pool is beautiful!
Your purple fountain grass is exactly what I planted in my daughters front yard!
Great. I bought it at a private nursery also. The guy said it would survive HERE!
Oh well, I haven't seen her front yard lately, but I am sure the grass is dead. I planted 2 of them also.
I guess I will have to find another grass for next spring.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2007 at 9:28PM
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I, too, planted this last year and was totally impressed with it's beauty and hardiness during the summer. It is now April, and I just cut the dead branches down to about 5". It is all 'straw' like. There is no sign of life. Another grass i have nearby is already coming up. Is this plant a goner? I was warned to put some extra mulch on it ever the winter, but I didn't follow through with it. Thanks for your advice!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 10:57PM
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I cut my Rubrum back last month here in zone 8. Out of a dozen clumps, only 2 have pushed any new growth, and those are not strong enough to make nice looking clumps.

I'm replanting mine this week (as usual)...beautiful grasses, but treat as annuals in all but the warmest zones. They grow so quickly and are easy to find at good prices...why not just continue to treat them as annuals?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 8:35AM
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GardenGal said there are other purple grasses that look like purple fountain grass but are hardier. Can anyone tell me what they are? I planted five purple fountain grass plants last year and it looks like none of them made it through the winter. I thought they were a perennial. A neighbor I used to have grew what looked like it and it lasted many years. I don't know what zone I'm in, but I'm right on the Maryland/Delaware line.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 7:35PM
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Miscanthus purpurascens and Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' are a couple of the hardiest substitutes for purple fountain grass and have a somewhat similar appearance. There are other 'red' flowering forms of both of these grasses, as well as other reddish toned switch grass, but these two come the closest in coloration.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 9:33PM
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I'm in NE Pa., the Poconos, where it gets very cold. Obviously need to buy this grass as an annual, but the only ones I see at the local nurseries, and at the HD/Lowes stores, are already big and expensive -- $20 or more!

Does anyone know of a good, cheap mail-order source where I could order a dozen of these puppies at a much smaller size every year for the same $20? (OK, maybe not $20. But y'all know what I mean!)

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 9:44PM
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You could get liner trays from Perennial Market.

Google Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum for suppliers. I know you can find mail order suppliers at much less than $20 a plant.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 11:44PM
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Dude! What's a liner tray? I'm clueless! I'm checking out Perennial Market's web page -- Plugs, I assume, are tiny seedlings -- I got that figured out. But when it says cell size and price, is the price per plug? So I'd multiply the price by, say, 72, or however many plugs are in a tray?

Wow, how cheap compared with retail. I see they have a minimum order; I have seven acres and that wouldn't bother me. But do they care if you're not a pro?

Thanks for the tip!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 12:06AM
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If you are mass planting and can use plugs vs larger material, that can be a way to go...especially for seven acres. 'Liners' are usually meant for bumping into larger size containers and growing on. You put a 2" plug of grass into the ground, you better be ready to care for it...or you can lose plants in mass.

Many suppliers don't require you to officially be in the trade, but you need to be able to buy in quantity and not complain when you lose plants after direct planting (that's not the intent of that size unit).

If you don't want to pay the retail prices for a slightly larger size (most online retail sources, you'll find a 3" to quart size container), then I'd recommend looking for an 18, 21, or 24 size tray vs a 72 plug tray. Unless you are going to bump up into quarts or gallons and grow on for a while.

Seven acres can hold a lot of plants.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 9:42AM
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Thanks so much, grass guy -- you've opened my eyes to a whole new world!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 8:18PM
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In my zone 5 it is considered an annual. Last fall (Nov) I cut it back to a few inches, dug it, potted it in a large pot and sat in my basement all winter. It was planted back in my garden in April and has grown into four feet of purple beauty.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 4:02PM
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Can I just dig these up and keep them as house plants for the winter, in a sunny, 60-70 degree location, or do these need colder temps to overwinter properly?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 2:22PM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

Bumping up, as I just bought 2 quart sized ones that I'd like to overwinter, if I can find out where. Attached garage, maybe 20 degrees warmer than outside (near the garage door), 40 degrees F closer to the house. Basement, 60 F, colder on the cement floor.

Here even the smallest pots are very expensive.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2008 at 2:02PM
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I hear what your're saying Grassguy about them being cheap enough to treat as annuals but for myself and others with shorter growing seasons(I'm in Cdn zone 5b) they don't bulk up as fast and are just at their best a few weeks before frost. This is the main reason I will try to overwinter mine this year.....hopefully in the spring I'll be starting out with a good sized plant.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2008 at 11:36AM
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I live in central Alabama and planted 6 of these last year and they looked so great. How long do I give them to grow this spring before knowing whether or not they are dead? I have other things popping up now but these have not yet. Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 7:10PM
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Don't even bother to wait for signs of life....there won't be any. If you'd read through this thread, you'd have figured out these are not reliably perennial (maybe that should read "remotely perennial" :-)) anywhere below zone 9 without winterizing indoors. And even that's not a sure thing.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 6:11PM
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Well, I just planted 9 new pfg's to replace my winter dead clumps. May have had about 3 or 4 growing shoots on each clump, but it's just not worth it. Saw these on sale at the link below... fast growers, fast bloomers, won't take long to have those beautiful purple plumes again. :)

I still envy the clumps down the road at Publix and Starbucks that survived this year...about 5 gallon size or so. I'll stick with replanting eah spring as necessary. I'd hate to take the chance on planting a 5 gallon grass only to lose it. Better off starting with the least expensive and watch how fast it'll fill in each year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Purple Fountain Grass on sale

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 12:04PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Whooo Hooooo I now have a greenhouse and have successfully wintered it over. It turned a bit more green because of lower light levels. Greenhouse heated to 50*.

Did this last year and then divided and potted up and had the most growth and blooms that we've ever had on them.

Severe weather caught us with our plants down this year and they didn't make it into the greenhouse but at least I know it is possible....

    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 6:25PM
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Just bought a beautiful pfg at a local nursery. It has several lovely plumes and looks healthy. It's about 2 ft. tall now. I face the south and it is always sunny in front of my house, even in winter. Live on south shore of LI and wonder if I should plant it and mulch it and see what happens, or if I should leave it in the pot and try to overwinter indoors? I thought of the basement as a winter home for it, but what about light sources? It isn't bright there unless someone's down there, otherwise dark. Can anyone advise? Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2009 at 6:50PM
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judi51(Zone 5)

See thread "Anyone successfully overwinter purple fountain grass?"

I leave mine in pots---do great.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 3:02PM
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since no one has posted to this since 2009 I may be posting this for nothing if it will not get seen by anyone...but here goes anyway....I am looking to purchase Pennisetum setaceum plugs in Canada....someone must sell these things up here because the nurseries sell them but I want far too many of them to purchase them for $4.00+ so if anyone has some insight on this please answer this post

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 9:09AM
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The best bet is to make prior arrangements with a local nursery. Try to get them to add a few flats of plugs to one of their wholesale orders, just for you. You may have to pay in advance, at least partially.

As a point of reference, the link below is to a US wholesaler of cell trays of perennials.

Here is a link that might be useful: Perennial Market

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 10:37AM
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thanks Donn - this is a great idea but is probably too late for this season I would think...but I will ask anyway and will keep it in minds next winter

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 11:36AM
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