Valley City Times-Record
Low maintenance perennials are good for greenhouses
Greenhouse season is not quite here yet.
But when it does come, one of the best parts of walking through warm greenhouses is looking at the perennials, especially low-maintenance perennials.
Plant it, and once it's established, forget itand it will still beautify the flowerbed.
One such perennials is fountaingrass. Many fountaingrasses are in the genus Pennisetum, which Hoffman Nursery claims is made up of around 80 species.
The fountaingrass is a timeless, traditional centerpiece in flowerbeds of not only the home gardener but also the industrial flowerbeds of businesses.
You can tell it's a fountaingrass because of its tall nature and bottlebrush-like plumes of a seedhead.
These powerhouses of color and height are actually derived from tropical or subtropical grasses.
The Pennisetum we're discussing today is not for decoration- in fact, it's downright homely. But this species (P. clandestinum) is beginning to see some importance in the world of agriculture.
P. clandestinum is also known as kikuyu grass, named after the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya.
According to a publication of the Cooperative Extension Service of Hawaii, kikuyu grass is both stoloniferous and rhizomatous, meaning it creeps underground as well as aboveground. Roots can drop to 3 meters- nearly 10 feet! Kikuyu grass is also dioecious- it has both male and female flowers on the same plant. Unlike the picturesque fountaingrasses in your local park, kikuyu does not grow tall and proudly flaunt its flowering parts on the very top, like most grasses. Instead, it sends out its flowering parts on a side shoot- and overall, kikuyu doesn't get very tall. It tends to form dense mats instead.
Despite its departure from what we would think of as a normal pasture grass, kikuyu stands up very well to heavy stocking and grazing. In fact, kikuyu is so aggressive that very few companion species can be planted with it. In some states, it is known as an invasive species, as it can survive some drought, fire, flooding, salinity, and frost- but only down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of its salinity tolerance, kikuyu grass is making strides as an irrigation control grass, as well as a turfgrass.
But in the world of agriculture, kikuyu is a high-protein source in grass- if it's grazed at the right stage.
Like sorghum sudangrass, kikuyu is toxic when grazed at the wrong stage. Kikuyu grass should be grazed when still very youngas in, at the 4.5 leaf stage, in a number of weeks.
Kikuyu poisoning can occur in the summer or autumn after a drought followed by a rain, and grass in the late stages of growth are also toxic. The definite cause of kikuyu poisoning are unknown, but the endophyte Fusarium torulosum is suspected. Endophyte means 'plant living within another plant,' in this case, a fungus inside the grass. Furthermore, young kikuyu contains too much potassium for grazing ruminants.
The good part about kikuyu grass toxicity is that animals recover well when removed from the affected paddock.
The Hawaii Extension publication discussed the need for paddock grazing in this species of grass. In fact, several varieties of kikuyu have been bred and released into the pastures in Hawaii in the late 1980s.
Kikuyu grass is not likely to take off in our region as a perennial because of its temperature needs. But as an annual, it would be possible.
Kikuyu grass is something to keep on your radar as hay is bought and sold from places far away- but until our winters remain above 15 degrees, we don't have to worry about our pastures being invaded.
That's a relief!