Plus, tips from a landscape architect about how to plant and care for this increasingly popular ornamental plant.
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foxtail grass near pond
Credit: Getty / KiHoon

If you haven't already considered foxtail grass for your lawn or garden, then now's the time to do so. Easy-to-care for and teeming with design opportunity, foxtail grass, also known as Pennisetum alopecuroides or "fountain grass," is the perfect plant for both beginners and seasoned green thumbs looking to liven up their yards. "Foxtail is an ornamental grass that is simultaneously beautiful and durable," says landscape architect Janice Parker. "In the fall, it can bloom with a dusty purple feather that is utterly gorgeous."

And since foxtail grasses grow a bushy group of spiked seeds, known as spikelets, that resemble the tail of a fox when blooming, they're naturally barbed for protection from animals—meaning you should plant them with caution and away from any prying pets. But for some gardeners, this is a plus. "They are deer resistant, which makes them all the more valuable," Parker says. If you're interested in planting some foxtail in your backyard, we're showing you how to grow and care for it like a seasoned professional.

Use it to shade other plants from the sun. 

Foxtail grass can grow to reach anywhere from 18 inches to three feet tall, making it the perfect height to shade shorter flowers and vegetables in your garden that don't require direct sunlight. "Pennisetums are absolutely the most valuable ornamental grass that we use," she says. "It's well behaved and it doesn't grow too tall or too short."

Use it sparingly in your garden. 

Since foxtail grows so quickly in direct sunlight, Parker says to be cautious about how much of it you plant in your garden. "Be careful about mixing ornamental grasses with other shapes and forms of plants, because an excess of linear foliage of any kind will start to detract from a visual balance of your garden," she says. 

Be mindful of the variety of Foxtail you plant. 

Because there are both annual and perennial options for foxtail, Parkers says to be sure to choose the correct variety for your distinct garden's needs and geographical zone. "In northern climates, you can leave the dried foliage from annuals to catch the snow and provide structure to the landscape," she says. "Just be sure to prune the perennial versions to the ground before the new growth appears in spring." 

Fill in empty spots in your yard.

Love the idea of ornamental grass but not sure where to plant it? Parker recommends using it as a decorative filler plant for open patches of soil in your garden or yard. "Mass these grasses, and plant liberally," she says. "You will not be disappointed."

Be cautious of curious pets.

Due to the barbed, spiky heads that grow on foxtail grass, it's best to plant it in a contained area of your yard or garden if you have pets that like to sniff around outside. The awns of foxtail grass are very sharp and can potentially burrow into your dog's skin, which means you should save it for an area outdoors that your pets can't easily access.

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
May 8, 2021
Be really careful with those foxtails. Make sure and check for them daily. I have a longer haired German Shepherd.. He got one foxtail that went under his skin for about 3″. He had to have an operation, wear a drain for four days and a cone for another week. It cost us in the vicinity of $500. It’s worth the few minutes you take to look. Even if you have to trim a bit of fur if you are suspicious of a sticker do it. In my opinion a snip of fur is worth $500.