Overwintering: Pennisetum 'Vertigo'

I'm currently showing you some of my overwintering techniques, important because as I type this it is 16ºF (-9ºC). Sunday's high is forecast to be 77ºF (25ºC), but that doesn't help a plant that has been killed by the cold -- so unless I want to buy lots of new plants in the spring I need to protect some of them.



Today it's the Pennisetum 'Vertigo', a grass that was new to me this season but one that I'll be growing again and again as I really like it! The only problem with it is its size: it is so much larger than Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (purple fountain grass) so is a lot more difficult to grow indoors. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself though, as right now I just need to get it out of the ground and into the garage.
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First though, I'll have to dig up another plant:


In front of the 'Vertigo' -- which has reached six feet (1.8m) tall -- is a good-sized Canna 'Paton':


It has spread further than expected in this dry spot, and has almost met the grass:


See the spread to the left? Here's a better view:



Overwintering cannas is really simple. Cut off the top growth -- it doesn't seem to matter how much stem you leave, but I leave 4" (10cm) or so -- then dig up. I'll actually talk about this a bit more in a another post, but I don't even worry about cleaning off all of the soil. I remove what falls off easily, but that's it.

With clear access to the grass now, I cut it down to about 2' (60cm), then took a closer look:


I can see that there's some new growth that hasn't been killed by freezing temperatures (protected by the rest of the plant), so I know the plant is in good shape:


Not that I was worried. There's more new growth emerging deep in the plant too:


Since this is a grass and therefore super-tough and resilient, I then just dug it out. No need to worry about the size of the rootball or about damaging tender stems or breaking too many roots -- just muscle it out of the ground!

Look at that color!

I forgot to point out that the stems of this big grass are quite thick themselves, about 1/2" (13mm). So beautiful too!

As I mentioned earlier, this size makes this a tough grass to grow under lights all winter. Last year I just kept a small pot of it in the garage, and I expect I'll be doing the same with at least part of this, but more on that in the next few weeks. 

Right now the goal was to just get it out of the ground and into the garage so it wouldn't die.

I was tempted to dig up my second 'Vertigo' too, but decided that this huge one was plenty. Besides, I'll want to know what temperatures that other one can actually handle -- for instance, did this 16ºF night kill it completely, or is it still viable? That information will be helpful for future years when determining which plants need to come out of the ground first -- if I plant can take upper teens there's no reason to hurry in getting it dug up.

For me overwintering plants is a delicate balance between panic and procrastination.

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scottweberpdx  – (November 13, 2013 at 9:28 AM)  

It's such a vigorous plant...I'm always amazed at how big it gets in a single season. I left mine out in pots last winter, thinking they'd be toast, exposed as they were. This spring I bought a new plant from a local nursery...but when I went to pull out last year's plants, they still seemed firm...not rotten at all. I tipped them out and put them in a shady corner...and promptly forgot about them. Months later, I noticed a few red leaves poking up through some other plants...the 'Vertigo' was alive! Even though it was just a bare-rootball sitting in the shade, it survived all summer and whatever water it got...and is still alive...tough, indeed!

Gerhard Bock (Bamboo, Succulents and More)  – (November 13, 2013 at 12:30 PM)  

Great post. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Vertigo in the ground will make it through the winter.

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