How to grow millet

How to grow millet

Grasses grown in the garden provide interesting contrast and often ease of care for the home gardener. Pennisetum glaucum, or ornamental millet grass, is a prime example of a show-stopping garden grass.

Information About Ornamental Millet Grass

Ornamental millet grass is derived from ordinary millet, a cereal grain that is an important food crop in semi-arid areas of Asia and Africa, and is cultivated in the United States as a forage crop. A millet breeder collecting millet germplasm from around the world grew a hybrid with stunning purple foliage and a spectacular seed spike. While this millet hybrid had no agriculture value, it became an award-winning specimen for the home landscape.

This ornamental grass bares 8 to 12 inch (20-31 cm.) cattail-like flower plumes that change from gold to purple as they mature. This stunning purple is echoed in the burgundy red to amber/purple corn-like foliage of the grass. Ornamental millet plants grow 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m.) in height.

The seed spikes of ornamental millet plants may be left on the plant to provide food for birds as they ripen or may be cut and used in dramatic floral arrangements.

Best Time to Plant Millet

The purple foliage of ornamental millet plants adds a lovely counterpoint to a garden either in mass plantings or in combination with other plant specimens and even in container gardening when a tall focal point is required.

The best time to plant millet is after the danger of frost has passed. Ornamental millet needs warm air and soil for germination, so even into June seeds may be sown, especially since ornamental millet plants grow quickly. It takes 60 to 70 days to go from seed to flower.

Care of Millet

Transplants for growing ornamental millet may be purchased from the local garden center or is easily grown from seed. If obtaining ornamental millet plants from a nursery, select those that are not root bound in the pot.

When growing ornamental millet, you need to situate it in a location of full sun in USDA zones 10 to 11. An annual, growing ornamental millet not only needs a sunny exposure, but well draining soil.

Care of millet also dictates keeping it moist, so mulch or other organic compost is a great idea around the base of the ornamental millet plants to retain moisture. However, growing ornamental millet may be susceptible to drowning and edema, so there is a fine line between overwatering and maintaining moist conditions.

Join the Community

How to grow millet

Millet is a collective term for a variety of grasses that produce small, rounded seeds that are harvested for food. These grasses are also called the millets, and there are five varieties in commercial production: browntop, foxtail, pearl, proso, and barnyard. It originated in Africa, where it still forms a crucial staple today, over 4,000 years ago. Millet is also widely grown across much of southern Asia and is one of the world’s major grain crops.

A hardy annual, millet is capable of growing in conditions that would kill other crops. It thrives in intense heat and poor soil, which makes it a natural choice for areas of the world that are turning into deserts. Millet can be relatively easily grown and is harvested like other grains, with the stalks being used for fuel, fodder, and bedding, while the grains are threshed. The grain can be turned into flour, as in India where it is used to make chapatis, or steamed and eaten whole.

Millet has high concentrations of numerous vitamins, as well as a high volume of protein — a little over 1/10 of the grain is protein. In addition, it is gluten free. Millet also grows quickly and can be harvested as soon as three months after planting, providing an opportunity to get two or even three crops in a year. It is less susceptible to pests than some other grains, and can be grown without the use of expensive pesticides as a result. There is some concern about sensitivity to fungus in nations that have developed genetically uniform strains targeted at increasing yields.

In developing nations, millet is used for food, animal bedding, construction materials, and forage fodder for animals. The grain, especially pearl millet, is thoroughly integrated into the lives of people living in Africa and India and is considered one of the four most important staple crops in these regions. In the first world, it has fallen out of favor for human consumption and is primarily used in commercial birdseed and other animal foods.

Millet has a fairly mild flavor, which can be enhanced by lightly toasting the seeds before cooking. The faint nutty taste is relatively unobtrusive, and the grain is often seasoned with spices and herbs to make it less bland. However, the blandness also makes it well suited as food for people who are sick and having difficulty keeping food down. While still unpopular in the majority of the West, millet is beginning to enter the public imagination with the proliferation of ethnic restaurants with dishes that incorporate it on the menu.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to grow milletMary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to grow millet

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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
Mature Size 4-6ft.
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
Native Area Africa
Toxicity Edible

” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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.

Light

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.

Water

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.

Fertilizer

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.

Binomial Name: Setaria Italica
Varieties: Pearl, Foxtail

The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult production environments such as those at risk of drought. They have been in cultivation in East Asia for the last 10,000 years.

“Millet” is a name that has been applied to several different annual summer grasses used for hay, pasture, silage and grain. The millets most commonly cultivated in Kentucky, pearl millet and foxtail millet, are grown primarily as a forage for temporary pasture. If properly managed they can provide high yields of good quality forage in a short period, without the risk of prussic acid poisoning.

Pearl millet is higher yielding than foxtail millet and regrows after harvest if sufficient stubble is left. Dwarf varieties, which are leafier and more suited for grazing, are also available.

Foxtail millet is a lower-yielding grass that will not regrow to produce another harvest. Because it is shorter and finer-stemmed, it is easier to harvest as hay. It can serve as a good smother crop to be used before no-till seeding of other crops, such as fescue or alfalfa. Foxtail millet is also used as a wildlife planting to produce food
and cover for various wild birds.

Growing grains is easy and fun! Buy heirloom grain seeds here and start today! See our complete grain growing guide here. Did you know that most grains can be sprouted for high-nutrient super-foods? Try our sprouts packs here with the 3-Day Independence Sprouts Pack. Getting cabin fever? Can’t wait to get to that Spring gardening? Grow indoors right now with the Complete Micro Greens Growing Kit or the Micro Greens Seed Pack. Have a high nutrient vegetable garden on your windowsill this week!

Millet is a highly nutritious food grain that is a well-kept secret. It’s mildly sweet with a nutty taste, and is loaded with essential nutrients. Millet, a grass that bears edible small-sized grains, is the oldest food crop known, dating back to 6000 B.C. [source: Asbell]. The grain is high in protein, fiber, vitamin B, iron and calcium, and is the sixth most important grain crop in the world, sustaining one-third of the world’s population. It’s the main crop in many African countries, due to its adaptability to grow in dry, arid climates. Millet contains no gluten, and can thus be eaten by those with restricted diets and those who are allergic to gluten. The most popular type of millet is pearl millet [source: Raily]. So why not learn how to grow millet and be on your way to a healthy diet.

  1. Choose a plot for planting millet that has a lot of exposure to the sun.
  2. Prepare the ground for planting by working nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the soil.
  3. Plant the individual seeds at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) apart from each other. Cover the seeds with at least an inch (2.5 centimeters) of soil. The rows of seeds should be at least 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) apart.
  4. Add additional compost or nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the ground as the millet grows. This is necessary because millet draws a lot of nitrogen from the soil.
  5. Place mulch around the seedlings to help retain water.
  6. Do not water your millet. Normal average rainfall should suffice for the growth of millet, so additional watering isn’t necessary.
  7. Harvest your millet when the grasses and seed heads have turned golden brown [source: Heirloom Organics].

Cite This!

Please copy/paste the following text to properly cite this HowStuffWorks.com article:

More Awesome Stuff

Explore More HowStuffWorks:

Learn How Everything Works!

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

Do not sell my data

Information that may be used

  • Type of browser and its settings
  • Information about the device’s operating system
  • Cookie information
  • Information about other identifiers assigned to the device
  • The IP address from which the device accesses a client’s website or mobile application
  • Information about the user’s activity on that device, including web pages and mobile apps visited or used
  • Information about the geographic location of the device when it accesses a website or mobile application

Millet is a highly nutritious food grain that is a well-kept secret. It’s mildly sweet with a nutty taste, and is loaded with essential nutrients. Millet, a grass that bears edible small-sized grains, is the oldest food crop known, dating back to 6000 B.C. [source: Asbell]. The grain is high in protein, fiber, vitamin B, iron and calcium, and is the sixth most important grain crop in the world, sustaining one-third of the world’s population. It’s the main crop in many African countries, due to its adaptability to grow in dry, arid climates. Millet contains no gluten, and can thus be eaten by those with restricted diets and those who are allergic to gluten. The most popular type of millet is pearl millet [source: Raily]. So why not learn how to grow millet and be on your way to a healthy diet.

  1. Choose a plot for planting millet that has a lot of exposure to the sun.
  2. Prepare the ground for planting by working nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the soil.
  3. Plant the individual seeds at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) apart from each other. Cover the seeds with at least an inch (2.5 centimeters) of soil. The rows of seeds should be at least 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) apart.
  4. Add additional compost or nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the ground as the millet grows. This is necessary because millet draws a lot of nitrogen from the soil.
  5. Place mulch around the seedlings to help retain water.
  6. Do not water your millet. Normal average rainfall should suffice for the growth of millet, so additional watering isn’t necessary.
  7. Harvest your millet when the grasses and seed heads have turned golden brown [source: Heirloom Organics].

Cite This!

Please copy/paste the following text to properly cite this HowStuffWorks.com article:

More Awesome Stuff

Explore More HowStuffWorks:

Learn How Everything Works!

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

Do not sell my data

Information that may be used

  • Type of browser and its settings
  • Information about the device’s operating system
  • Cookie information
  • Information about other identifiers assigned to the device
  • The IP address from which the device accesses a client’s website or mobile application
  • Information about the user’s activity on that device, including web pages and mobile apps visited or used
  • Information about the geographic location of the device when it accesses a website or mobile application

How to grow milletBrowntop Millet (or dixie signalgrass) originated in South East Asia. Browntop is grown for several purposes, including wildlife attractant (dove fields), erosion control, straw production, as well as forage production (Figure 11). Because it is commonly used for a variety of purposes, many farm supply stores carry browntop millet varieties. As a result, it is occasionally used for grazing or hay production. Browntop typically grows only to 2 – 5 ft tall and produces only 60 – 70% of the dry matter of pearl millet or sorghum x sudan hybrids.

Browntop millet can be planted from mid-April until mid-August in most locations, though later plantings will result in lower yields. To establish browntop millet, broadcast 20-25 lbs of seed per acre on a prepared seedbed in spring. Seed should be covered to a depth of ½ inches in a firm seed bed.

Browntop millet is a nitrate accumulating crop. Because of this nitrate accumulation and low yield potential, browntop millet often will contain nitrate concentrations that are toxic (or lethal) to livestock. Browntop should not be planted if a drought is anticipated or forecasted.

Browntop millet is a good reseeding plant and the seed may remain viable in the soil for many years. It can become a pest in cultivated crops.

Dr. Dennis Hancock
Forage Extension Specialist
Crop & Soil Sciences Dept.

Brown Top Millet is a warm-season cover crop that provides excellent ground cover for weed suppression during warmer months. It also makes a great livestock forage and green manure for adding organic matter to soils. Brachiaria ramosa.

Brown Top Millet is an ideal warm-season cover crop for suppressing and reducing weed pressure during the warmer months. Millet is a tall, bunching grass that can get up to 12 feet high. Because it is a bunching grass, it forms a “mat” over the soil and provides excellent ground cover. This ground cover works great for weed suppression during the warmer months when weed pressure is highest. Brown Top Millet matures in 60-70 days, making it a very fast-growing cover crop. Because it grows so fast, it is able to grow faster than the weeds that it is being used to suppress.

Millet is an ideal cover crop for soils with low moisture, low fertility, and in areas with high temperatures. It is very tolerable of hot, dry conditions. It performs best in sandy loam soils but can be great for adding nutrients to sandy soils which are nutrient-deficient. As “green manure”, millet can add significant amounts of organic matter to depleted soils, improving tilth and soil quality. While growing, millet will improve water absorption and retention in fast-draining soils.

Brown Top Millet germinates best in soil temperatures at least 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Millet may be planted with a broadcast spreader or a precision planter like our Hoss Garden Seeder. Although it can be planted in late spring, it works great as a transition between spring and fall crops. We suggest planting after spring crops are finished and incorporating into soils before fall crops are planted. As with most cover crops, they should be mowed or cut before going to seed. This will prevent the cover crop from becoming a weed issue in the future. Millet may be mowed or grazed by livestock. Once cut, it can be incorporated into the soil as “green manure” or left on top of the soil to continue suppressing weeds.