Purple fountain grass

Credit: J.M.Garg

Q: I have this plant and was told when I purchased it that it was a perennial and that other people who purchased it had it come back the following year. I had one last year and it did not come back. I have another one and wondered if there was some way of protecting it so that it would come back next year. I live in Ontario, Canada.

Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) doesn’t even survive winters in coastal British Columbia. It is native to tropical Africa and southwest Asia! We tried to overwinter it in the greenhouses at VanDusen Botanical Garden when I used to work there, but there just wasn’t enough light for it to make it. They just seem to rot out in the winter, even if they don’t freeze. In Canada, it can only be grown as an annual.

However, there are other species of Pennisetum that have the same bottlebrush look that might survive. P. alopecuroides is hardy to zone 6. If you mulched it, it might be ok in the Toronto area. It has the same “bottlebrush” inflorescences, but it doesn’t have the gorgeous red leaves. There are grasses in other genera that are very hardy, including some wonderful native Canadian grasses, but there really isn’t anything like purple fountain grass.