Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J. | 3/30/2015 11:14:40 PM
For Release On Or After 04/24/15
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
An ornamental grass called Fireworks purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum Fireworks) has been selected by the LSU AgCenter as a Louisiana Super Plant for spring 2015. And, wow, are you going to be impressed by the colorful foliage of this grass.
The Louisiana Super Plants program is an educational and marketing campaign of the LSU AgCenter that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well in Louisiana landscapes. New selections are announced and promoted each year in spring and fall.
Many gardeners consider the term “ornamental grass” an oxymoron. To be honest, some of our worst garden weeds are grasses. Crabgrass, torpedo grass, wild Bermuda grass and Johnsongrass are persistent, difficult-to-control pests that most of us are all too familiar with. As a result, many gardeners are reluctant to purposefully plant grasses into flower beds or borders in their landscape. Ornamental grasses, however, are not rampantly aggressive and are truly attractive.
Fireworks is a relatively new variegated version of purple fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum, an ornamental grass we have long grown successfully. The young foliage of Fireworks is streaked with red, pink, creamy white and green. The colors are most brilliant in spring when the growth is young, but they stay relatively bright through midsummer. In late summer, the colors tend to fade a bit and deepen to burgundy and dark pink, but the plants are still attractive.
Fireworks purple fountain grass grows to be about 24 to 30 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide and has a graceful, upright, fountaining form. The flower stalks rise above the foliage – the long, feathery flower plumes are pinkish tan. Although the colorful foliage is the star, the flower plumes add considerably to the attractiveness of the plants.
The strong fountain form of Fireworks combined with its fine texture and feathery flower heads make a unique contribution to the landscape. Like many ornamental grasses, the foliage and flower plumes of Fireworks purple fountain grass move in the slightest breezes and catch the light like few other plants.
Plant Fireworks grass in sunny beds for best color. Prepare the bed where they are to be planted by incorporating a few inches of compost, bagged manure or soil conditioner along with a light sprinkling of fertilizer into the soil. Plant transplants so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil of the bed, apply a couple of inches of mulch and water the bed thoroughly.
These tough, resilient plants are drought-tolerant once established a few weeks after planting. They do not, however, mind in the least the frequent rainfall that often occurs in mid- to late summer. They are not prone to any major insect or disease problems and require little care over the summer. They are an excellent choice for lower-maintenance or sustainable landscaping.
Cold hardy down to the low 20s, this grass should be grown as an annual in north Louisiana. Plant new plants each spring for a summer-long display. Given the months of beauty this plant provides, it is well worth the investment each year.
In south Louisiana, Fireworks may live through mild winters and provide more than one year of display. When that happens, cut the plants back hard in late February or early March to get rid of the old, brown foliage and make way for fresh new growth.
So if you are looking for a beautiful, reliable plant for sunny flower beds, consider Fireworks purple fountain grass. It combines beautifully with sun-loving coleuses (such as Henna, a Super Plant selection for spring 2015), lantana, ornamental sweet potato, Butterfly pentas, Senorita Blanca cleome, cannas and periwinkles, to name a few.
Fireworks grass also looks great in containers by itself or combined with a variety of other plants. I have combined it with white Serena angelonia and blue Summer Wave torenia in a large container for a patriotic red, white and blue color scheme.
You also should consider growing a couple of other ornamental grasses in the series with Fireworks. Look for Cherry Sparkler with green and white foliage lightly brushed with burgundy that makes the plant look pink, and Skyrocket, with green and white variegated foliage and light burgundy flower plumes.
Louisiana Super Plants are selected a year or two in advance of a public announcement. The selection process involving LSU AgCenter horticulture faculty and members of the Louisiana nursery and landscape industry makes the program “university tested and industry approved.” To see a list of nurseries participating in the Louisiana Super Plants program, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/superplants.