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Originally published August 15, 2013 at 5:05 AM | Page modified August 15, 2013 at 4:27 PM

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Purple fountain-grass blues; August sowing of fall veggies

Gardening columnist Ciscoe Morris answers reader queries about overwintering purple fountain grass, and what vegetable seeds to sow in August for harvest in fall and early winter.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Plant Amnesty lecture: 7 p.m. Aug. 20, Alex LaVilla, Swanon’s Nursery perennial buyer and Great Plant Picks Perennial Committee member, will discuss his favorite plant picks for the shaded garden. Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle (www.plantamnesty.org).

City Fruit Guest Bartender Night at 50 North Restaurant: 6-9 p.m. Aug. 21. Support City Fruit while sipping on a City Fruit-inspired cocktail. The board will be serving drinks, telling stories, raffling prizes and collecting tips to support the harvest that’s happening now. 5001 25th Ave. N.E. No. 100, near University Village in Seattle (www.cityfruit.org).

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In the Garden

Q: Dig and store it or leave it in the garden, I can’t seem to keep purple fountain grass alive through the winter. What is the best way to overwinter this grass?

A: With attractive purple leaves and footlong flowers that form arching burgundy plumes, purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is truly a spectacular ornamental grass. Unfortunately, purple fountain grass comes from the tropics and isn’t hardy here in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s also, at least by my own experience, extremely difficult to overwinter indoors. I’ve tried digging it up and storing it in my unheated garage several times without success. You have to allow it to go dormant, yet water just the right amount or the roots tend to rot.

I suggest you follow my example and grow purple fountain grass as an annual and purchase a nice healthy new one every spring. While you’re at it, check out the much hardier ‘Karley Rose’ fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’). Hardy to about -20 degrees, the leaves on ‘Karley Rose’ are dark green, and form a clump about 3-feet tall and wide. The foliage turns lovely shades of yellow in fall. The showy, arching, feathery flowers are smoky reddish-pink and bloom from early June until September.

This graceful beauty can be planted anytime from now until late fall, without suffering a lick of winter damage. ‘Karley Rose’ is drought tolerant and requires only a sunny location and reasonably well-drained soil. As is true with all deciduous ornamental grasses, always cut the old strawlike foliage to the ground in late winter before the new shoots emerge.

Q: What vegetable seeds can be sowed in August for harvest in fall and early winter?

A: Early to late August is the perfect time to plant a wide variety of greens for harvest in fall and early winter. Leaf lettuce and mesclun blends germinate and grow best when air temperatures range between 60 and 70 degrees, and most are hardy enough to withstand light freezes.

Sow seed in mid-August, harvest individual leaves as needed, and if temperatures remain moderate, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh salad greens right out of the garden well into winter. Mustard greens, corn salad and arugula are all pretty much foolproof as well.

Spinach is another very fast growing, hardy vegetable that can be sowed now for a fall/early winter harvest. If you live in an exceptionally cold area, the fast-growing variety ‘Regal’ is ready for harvest within about 30 days after emergence.

This is a great time to sow cilantro seeds, especially if it tends to bolt for you in the spring. It is a little late for a dependable crop of beets; however, sow beet seed now if you want to eat the beet greens.

Likewise, peas should have been sown by mid-July in order to produce peas but go ahead and plant them if you like pea shoots. They are all the rage these days and they’re packed with vitamin A and C. Pick the top 6-8 inches of the vines and serve them raw in salads or on top of soups or toss them into the wok to add tangy zest in stir-fries.

The vines on any type of pea plant are edible, but according to most connoisseurs the shoots on sugar-snap varieties are the most delicious.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

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About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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