Maintenance Information

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Fountain Grass- the good, the bad and the ugly

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'- Fountain Grass appeared in the nurseries with many other ornamental grasses a few years ago, but be warned, not all ornamental grasses are as inocuous and lovely to care for as they first appear.
I too thought this would be a wonderful and graceful plant to use in ornamental, dry gardens. What a mistake! Fountain grass became quite the problem. Growing to a huge height and overwhelming borders only to completely die off in winter creating a giant cleanup and pruning project.  That would not have been so bad in comparison to what was to come.

The worst surprise came when I took my dog in to see the vet. because he was scratching at his ear a lot. She extracted a seed head from his ear and said he had got a foxtail in his ear. I quickly spoke up saying we didn't have any foxtails in the garden. Then it dawned on me- this was not a foxtail but a seed from the fountain grass in the backyard.  With his droopy ears the seed had burrowed down and was irritating his ear canal.  This was awful. Not only had I hurt my dog but we had been using these grasses in lots of peoples yards. Horrible.

Unfortunately in gardening this type of thing happens sometimes. A new plant is introduced and seems great but the reality is different than the first impression. I always used my garden as a testing ground for different plants to understand the growth, maintenance and disease resistance of plants in our area.  With the ornamental grasses the things to watch for are reseeding in an invasive way, unruly growth, and excessive maintenance issues. Most of my clients want low maintenance and if they have a gardener they may not know how to care for ornamental grasses.  Over watering can also be a disaster creating way too much growth and spread or the opposite- rotting out the crown. Over the years I have honed down the choices to many nice plants that are long lasting, stay trim and are fairly disease and pest free. Its taken awhile and new plants are always being introduced.  Gardening is a learning experience. Anyway, if I used a fountain grass in your garden I am sorry! It seemed wonderful at the time- wrong.   

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