Also known as purple fountain grass and African fountain grass, red fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is an ornamental grass species commonly cultivated for its reddish purple foliage and fluffy plumes. The grass is tolerant of a wide variety of soil and temperature conditions and requires little care or maintenance once it's established.
Fountain grass hails from scrubby habitats throughout the Middle East, tropical Africa and southwest Asia. It has naturalized throughout southern California, Australia and southern Florida. Red fountain grass is a warm weather lover that does best in USDA Zones 8 to 11, although it may be grown as an annual in cooler climates.
Plant red fountain grass in a full sun location. Expect the plant to turn brown and die back in the winter, even in warm climates.
Red fountain grass is remarkably adaptable. The grass will grow in hot, humid areas with acidic to alkaline soils. The plant is not adversely affected by heavy winds, and is rarely bothered by pests or disease. Rabbits and deer tend to avoid the plant. Grasses grown in areas that are too shady may look leggy.
Once established, red fountain grass is quite drought tolerant and requires only toccasional watering.
Red fountain grass can be used to add bulk and texture to a flat meadow or pond side, or as a low-maintenance potted plant. The grass can also be used for practical purposes as an erosion control plant or as a habitat for wildlife.
Remove old foliage before new leaves appear to promote a healthy, neat appearance. Divide roots every two or three years in early spring to increase the plant's vigor.
Both the California Exotic Pest Plant Council and the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council list fountain grass as an invasive plant. Invasive plants often escape the confines of the garden, threatening the well being of native plant habitats. Gardeners should consult an invasive species list before planting fountain grass, or choose a noninvasive cultivar that does not re-seed itself. Fountain grass may also be a fire hazard in the winter, when it turns dry and flammable.