Setaria macrostachya is a perennial grass that is usually grown as an annual, with linear leaves becoming brown with maturity, and slender, millet-like flowering panicles in summer.
Growing to around 80 (32in) tall, the long, erect, slender stems bear broad, arching leaves and produce in summer lovely soft foxtail-like flower-heads.
Suitable for growing in the garden or in containers, this form of ornamental millet grass is lovely in the mixed border where the mid-green foliage and fluffy pendulous seed heads give a stunning display.
Setaria macrostachya grows best in a rich, well-drained soil but will grow in poor and dry soils. It is very drought tolerant and loves to bask in full sun but does not perform well in shade. The fluffy seed heads are very dramatic and the foliage is a great contrast for just about anything in the garden or the vase.
Sown in spring this annual grass grows quickly and begins to flower in just 60 days. The plants are usually in flower from June to October. The culms grow to between 50 and 100cm (18 to 36in) tall. The inflorescence, which is a soft panicle (tassel) grows to around 20 to 25cm (8 to 10in) long. The flowers form from the top of the panicle downwards.
Setaria seeds are very nutritious for birds, and if the seed heads are allowed to ripen in late summer, wildlife will be attracted to your garden.
Setaria macrostachya is just one of several ornamental millets grown for use as a cut flower. The panicles emerge from the top of the stalk and gradually bend over as they lengthen. After they bend over they expand and open out, a bit like a fluffy squirrel’s tail.
They are pretty at all stages but when used as a cut flower they are easier to integrate into bouquets before they start to curve over too much. The flower plume provides interesting contrast with its colour, unusual shape and fuzzy texture. If dried the colour will last for months.
Sowing: Sow indoors in early spring.
The seeds are best sown indoors in early spring. In areas with a long growing season, the seeds can be started directly outdoors after frost danger has passed. With a later start, the plants will still grow and form panicles but the seed heads may not mature completely in the early autumn to attract wildlife.
Sow on to the surface of a free-draining, moist seed-sowing compost and cover lightly with soil or vermiculite. Keep at around 15 to 20°C (60 to 68°F) Germination should take place in two to four weeks.
Maintain a temperature of 15°C (60°F) after germination until the seedlings are established
Once seedlings are large enough to handle, separate them out and grow them individually in their own pot containing gritty, well drained compost to grow on. Once the danger of frost has passed the seedlings can be transplanted outdoors. Plant 60cm (24in) apart in full sun and well drained soil.
Ensure all ground is weed free and well prepared before sowing. Sow the seed 2 to 3cm (¾ to1¼in) deep in rows 60 to 90cm (25 to 35in) apart with a distance of 10 to 30cm (4 to 12 in) between the plants.
The rate and speed of germination will depend on the soil temperature and weather conditions. Once the plants are growing strongly, thin the plants to a distance of 60cm (24in) apart.
Cut back old foliage in spring as new growth appears in the centres of plants.
Feed in summer with single dressing of a dilute general fertiliser. Even without an annual feed, most grasses will put on a first-rate show. The more nitrogen grasses receive the greener and further they'll grow. Do not over do it…their spreading habit is fine in a field, but in a garden they may become too lush and the flower quality may suffer.
The panicles can be dried and make interesting focal or secondary flowers in dried flower arrangements.
This can be done by cutting the stems off from the base before the seed heads have formed. A group of stems can be hung upside down in a warm dark place until they become fully dry. Make sure to keep the stems away from direct sunlight during this time. They are useful for winter arrangements as once dried the colour will last for months.
Beds and borders, Containers, Foliage and Prairie planting. Flower arrangements. Low Maintenance.
Wildlife, specifically to feed birds in the garden
Setaria, millet may be the first grain cultivated by man, predating even rice. Man learned to cultivate it in East Asia about 10,000 years ago, paving the way for the shift from a nomadic hunting and gathering to a more settled lifestyle based on farming.
The genus name Setaria is derived from the Latin word seta, meaning 'a bristle' pertaining to the long spikes.
The specific epithet macrostachya is from the Greek macro, meaning large, and stachya, meaning spike-shaped, referring the the size and the shape of the inflorescence
Varieties of millet are differentiated according to the colour of the caryopses and spikes (white, yellow, orange, and red). The term 'millet' comprises several genera of annual grasses that produce small seeds usually grown as cereal crop. The word millet comes from the Latin word millium' meaning 'a thousand' . In this case it means 'having a thousand grains'.
The common name of Foxtail was applied to various grasses with brush like spikes.
As a Crop:
Outside of ornamental horticulture, Setaria macrostachya, is grown both as a cereal grain and as a forage crop. The grain is used for human consumption and in ground form by all species of livestock. It is loved by poultry, aviary birds and wild birds, it is also eaten by hamsters and gerbils.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 100 Seeds Common Name Aka Chamaeraphis macrostachya Other Common Names Foxtail grass, Plains bristle grass Other Language Names FR: Millet des Oiseaux Family Poaceae Genus Setaria Species macrostachya Synonym Chaetockloa Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Soft foxtail-shaped flowerheads. Natural Flower Time June to October. Height 80cm (32in) Spread 40cm (16in) Position Full sun preferred. Aspect All aspects. Exposed or Sheltered Soil Moist but well-drained soil.