Dividing purple fountain grass

Usually I wait until February before I cut back or divide ornamental grasses. However, after a week of leaden skies I was so happy to see the sun on Sunday morning that I decided to tackle a potted purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum').

This particular plant was so root-bound that it was difficult to water it effectively. Consequently, it ended up looking much less impressive in the fall of 2010 than it had the year before. 

Purple fountain grass in September of 2010

I should have known by looking at the shape of the pot that the root ball wouldn’t just slip out. It took a lot of cutting and prying with my hori hori before I was able to pull the plant out, with my wife firmly holding on to the pot.

Plant as it came out of the pot

The rest was easy. Using my trusty reciprocating saw, I cut off the very bottom, which was just a mat of roots anyway—and then sliced the root ball into three chunks.

Divided root ball

I planted the larger of the three chunks in the original glazed pot, using soil left over from our stock tank project. The other two went into 5-gallon nursery pots, and a small rooted division that apparently got yanked out of the root ball as I was extracting it went into a quart-sized pot. I love purple fountain grass, and I’m glad to have extra plants this year.

Repotted divisions

The repotted divisions have lots of room to grow and it will be much easier to get water to their roots.

We have another purple fountain grass in a similar glazed pot that also needs to be divided. But that’s a job for another day.


  1. Has the purple color faded with the coming of winter? It seems just green to me.

    Also, you could have made 20 more divisions from that if you wanted to... although I don't know where you would put them. =)

  2. Alan, there's virtually no purple left. It'll return as it gets warmer.

    I have another pot that size to divide so I'll end up with more plants than I can use. Luckily, they always find takers since everybody loves purple fountain grass.

    In addition, I just bought a 1-gallon plant at Lowe's for $1. I just couldn't leave it there on the clearance rack :-).

  3. Even when the colour is faded, its still a lovely grass.


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