Pennisetum x advena 'Rubrum'

Five pennisetums to grow

When all else is fading, pennisetums reach their peak – we pick five of the best.

The fountain grasses, Pennisetum, are attractive perennial grasses from warmer parts of the world. They look their best in late summer and autumn.

Advertisement

What sets them apart from other grasses is the mass of bristly bottlebrush spikes held upright or arching, like fountains, above slender, graceful foliage. The flowers may be creamy or biscuit-coloured, some with pink or red overtones, with many retaining their looks throughout autumn and into winter.

The long narrow foliage is attractive all year round, but looks its best in autumn, when it develops golden, buttery shades, often with coppery overtones. Some cultivars of one species, the half-hardy Pennisetum x advena, have dramatic dark-red and variegated leaves.

More advice on growing ornamental grasses:

Discover beautiful pennisetums to grow and how to grow them.


Pennisetum thunbergii ‘Red Buttons’

Pennisetum 'Red Buttons'. Photo: Getty Images.
Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’. Photo: Getty Images.

Bright-red bunny tails, fading to biscuit brown, are carried above glossy-green foliage. Flowers from July October.

Height x spread: 90cm x 90cm.


Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’

Pennisetum' Little Bunny'. Photo: Getty Images.
Pennisetum’ Little Bunny’. Photo: Getty Images.

Neat and compact with narrow foliage and greenish-cream flowers on arching stems. Flowers August to November.

H x S: 45cm x 45cm.


Pennisetum villosum

Pennisetum villosum. Photo: Getty Images.
Pennisetum villosum. Photo: Getty Images.

Greyish leaves with fluffy flowerheads. Less hardy than some, but superb in a pot. In blooms from July to October.

H x S: 60cm x 60cm.


Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'. Photo: Getty Images.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. Photo: Getty Images.

Especially free-flowering, with soft, pink-tinted white flowerheads. Flowers from July to September.
H x S: 1.2m x 1m.


Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’

Pennisetum x advena 'Rubrum'. Photo: Getty Images.
Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’. Photo: Getty Images.

Red foliage and arching, reddish-purple flowers. Not hardy, but great in a sheltered pot. Flowers from July to November.

H x S: 1.5m x 1m.


Caring for pennisetum grasses

Position

  • Happy in most free-draining soils that are not wet in winter
  • Best in full sun and will tolerate some shade from the side, but not from overhead
Advertisement

Care

  • All those mentioned here except Pennisetum x advena (and many we rarely grow) are hardy in the right conditions
  • All are good in pots and will tolerate an occasional missed watering
  • Cut back to ground level in spring just as the new growth starts