Millet is a confusing term used broadly to describe five completely different genera of plants: Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), Japanese millet (Echinochloa frumentaceae), Brown top millet (Panicum ramosum), and Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum). While the others are used primarily as food crops around the world Pennisetum glaucum is used mainly as an ornamental plant in the United States. We will be taking a closer look at ornamental millet in this article and give you some pointers on how to help you use it in your own landscape design.
Pennisetum glaucum is recorded as being grown as early as 2000 BC as a food source. Originally from Africa, in time millet spread throughout the world. The Romans and Gauls made porridge from it. In the Middle Ages millet was the most eaten grain in Europe, and even today it is still an important crop. In Africa, it is used to make beer. In India, it is used to make bread. And in Africa and Europe, it is still made into porridges and fermented to make alcoholic beverages. In the United States millet is gaining favor as a gluten substitute and in health food circles.
It is highly nutritious being high in fiber, iron, B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus, and highly alkaline, making it easily digested. It is not a new crop in the United States. It was introduced to cultivation in the 1850s, but it was not part of the country’s normal consumption. It was most often used as animal feed.
As an ornamental plant it really took off in 2003, when the new cultivar ‘Purple Majesty’ was an All-America Selections Gold Medal Winner, and everyone in the gardening world needed to have it. The selection had maroon leaves and purple inflorescences and was bred by Dr. David Andrews from the University of Nebraska.
The fabulous purple color, high salt, high/low pH tolerance, and ability to be grown in infertile soil, made this a no brainer for people looking for a tough annual monocot that could withstand dry weather and harsh sun.
Adding to all those benefits is the fact that it is a bird smorgasbord and you have a grass that is a winner in any landscape. Ornamental Millet caught on and new cultivars in various colors swept the nursery world. Of course, the wild type, green, soon came back in favor as well, when people realized just how versatile the plant was.
If you have a spot in your yard that is in need of a splash of color are looking to add some height to the back or middle of a garden bed and you would like to attract some wildlife, ornamental millet is a great choice.
|Botanical Name||Pennisetum glaucum|
|Common Name||Ornamental Millet|
|Plant Type||Ornamental Grass/ Food Crop|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||Evenly moist, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Neutral Soils|
|Bloom Time||July to September|
|Flower Color||Dependent on cultivar. green-to purple|
|Hardiness Zones||2-11, USA|
How to Grow Millet
A major reason why ornamental millet is such an attractive option for landscapes is how easy it is to grow.
The conditions have to be pretty extreme for it not to grow. If you just follow the guide below you and the wildlife, especially the birds, in your garden will enjoy three full seasons of amazing ornamental millet.
All cultivars of Pennisetum glaucum thrive on full sun though they will tolerate partial shade. The richest color purple and maroon leaves are achieved in full sun, and planting these cultivars in any other light conditions will not do them justice.
Ornamental millet is a tolerant plant, it can sustain itself in drier soils and drought. It prefers good drainage as it has some issues with becoming waterlogged. Salt levels and pH balance is not an issue for this plant either.
Pennisetum glaucum has medium needs for water. It is not considerably thirsty, and this can be offset by a good layer of mulch.
Temperature and Humidity
Ornamental millet is a hot climate, warm-season plant. Higher temperatures result in faster growth and taller plants. As long as the soil is kept evenly moist, high humidity is not required.
It is a good idea to treat the ornamental millet with a feeding of 15-0-15 fertilizer once when you first transplant it or, if the seeds were directly sown, after emergence.
Is Millet Toxic?
Millet is edible and is one of the most eaten grains in the world. Do not eat the millet in your own garden though. Leave that for the birds. Although it won't do any harm, there is a husk on the grain that is not digestible by humans and this is best removed through industrial harvesting processes.
Growing Millet From Seeds
If you plan to plant seeds, they can be started inside in trays 45 days before frost and hardened to the cooler weather. Move to larger pots as the plants outgrow their starter trays to avoid the millet from becoming root-bound.
Direct sowing can be done when the danger of frost has passed, but the soil needs to be sufficiently warm for germination to occur. Keep the soil moist but not soaked.
Another thing that is especially prized about millet is that it is extremely fast-growing. It will take only 60 days for the plant to go from seed to flower. The benefit of this is that you can refresh the garden beds throughout the season.