04 August 2010

Impressive Spring Tryout

Each year I allow in a few new plants for a tryout, giving rookies a chance to make the team. They come from the plant swap, from local garden centers, from online nurseries, and from seed companies. If they impress the coach, they are invited back for future seasons.

One of the impressive rookies this year was the Ornamental Millet 'Jester' (Pennisetum glaucum). As with anything ordered online or through a catalog, the pictures and description looked incredible. But, we all know how a little Photoshop and a few writers from the J Peterman catalog can make a plant seem. The Jester height and color sounded exciting.

The millet seeds were started indoors in late spring with a good germination rate. They flopped over in the pots, causing concern about planting and hardening off. After planting outside, the chartreuse leaves resembled nothing in the catalog descriptions, but after a month, the burgundy colors began to come out in newer leaves.

The millet put out its 12-inch long (30 cm) seed heads this summer after reaching 6-feet (1.8 m) in one month. Each of the 7 plants has 2-4 stalks, nicely filling in its bed. It is growing in an area recently reclaimed from years of ivy, so the soil is still a bit on the clay side, and no disease or pest have bothered it. Now that the seed heads have formed, each plant is beginning to send out new shoots from the base.

Millet is a grass plant know for sustaining civilizations, like the other grasses corn, rice, and wheat. It is still an important agricultural food crop in many parts of the world. There are five classifications of millet: proso, foxtail, barnyard, browntop, and pearl. My ornamental is the pearl type, coming from Africa and India. Foxtail is the type grown for bird seed.

Several comments have run in the vein of, "do the birds love it?" No, the birds are unimpressed, whether because the seeds are not yet ready for eating, the plants remain undiscovered, or the birds are connoisseurs of seed and hybrids don't make the grade. Most gardeners are intrigued by my rookie millet for its color and height; a few of its relatives Jade Princess and Purple Majesty might be invited to a tryout next year to join the Jester.

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Average to light watering
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of organic fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, nicotiana, cleome, zinnia, canna, cosmos, rudbeckia, phlox
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 6 tomatoes, 6 cucumbers


Northern Shade said...
It's fun to try new plants each year. I love the excitement and anticipation of discovering how they do in the garden, and as you mention, what they really look like. Your millet made good growth for an annual you started in late spring. The purple leaves and ornamental seed heads are very attractive.
Swimray said...
And it's great when the plants turn out better than your expectations. If you think millet grows fast, remember my castor bean plants - 6 feet in 2 months!
flwrjane said...
Hi, Nice to meet you. i live, eat and garden in South Arlington.

Excited to find such an informative local garden blog.

Are you loving this cool gray day?

Swimray said...
Thanks for stopping by and for the good comments.