Ornamental Millet

Millet-mainWe are shipping four kinds of ornamental millet this summer: two tall varieties (a red leaf and a green leaf) and two not-so-tall ones (a red leaf and a green leaf as well). These four selections cover all the bases, providing height for a garden backdrop and lower-growing interest for decorative planters and the front of the garden. They’ll add form and texture to full sun areas with stately, grass-like foliage that’s colorful and dense—creating the perfect foil for other neighboring plants in the landscape.

Millet’s bold, cattail-like flower spikes are always in demand, even though they’ve been around for a long time—a really long time. This ancient crop—it’s been grown since at least 5000 B.C.—is a food grain staple in Africa and India, and at one time Asia, before it was surpassed by rice. Eaten as a thick porridge and also fermented to brew beer, millet somehow never caught on as a foodstuff in the U.S. Here it’s mainly been used as animal feed and in birdseed mixes, but we’ve always admired its good looks so it’s become popular as an ornamental.


All four varieties have compact foliage, mounded and upright, with bottlebrush style flowers that are up to a foot long. Plants are heat and drought tolerant, but with regular water and some fertilizer they’ll get lush and bushy. About 1–3 main stems will sprout up from the base of each plant with a few secondary ones rounding out the bill—perfect for filling in hot, sunny spots in the landscape.

‘Jade Princess’

‘Jade Princess’ is a fountain-like variety of millet, with brilliant lime green leaves that arch gracefully downward. That bright foliage contrasts sharply with dark brown-purple flower spikes—eye-catching! It grows 3–4 feet high and because of its fountain style it doesn’t provide the strong vertical element to the landscape that other millets do. For many landscapers it’s a must-have anyway, because the leaf color falls in the chartreuse range that’s so popular now.

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‘Purple Majesty’

If height is what you’re after, take a look at ‘Purple Majesty’. This variety reaches a rigid 5 feet and has a corn-like habit as opposed to a fountain-like one. Its claim to fame is its deep dark purple foliage, stems, and flower plumes—plenty of vertical interest here! Plants actually start out green-leaved and mature to purple as they are exposed to sunlight. Full sun will produce the most vivid purple color, something to keep in mind when situating this plant in the landscape.

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‘Purple Baron’

‘Purple Baron’ is similar to ‘Purple Majesty’, with shiny purple-burgundy foliage that’s even darker—the darkest of all the millets. It reaches only 3 feet high but it’s very thick and full. ‘Jester’ is a little bit of everything: attractive foliage emerges bright chartreuse and changes to red and bronze before arriving at dark, rich burgundy-purple. It’s bushier than ‘Purple Majesty’ and reaches between 3 and 4 feet high.


Millet works well in containers that need a dominant vertical element. For example, a bed and breakfast that we know flanks the doorway with millet planters to emphasize the strong vertical lines of the door. This variety is ‘Jade Princess’, one of the shorter ones; another good choice would have been ‘Purple Baron’—both only get about as high as your waste. They’re beautiful in pots—petunias and ‘Diamond Frost’ around the base provide soil coverage and extra color interest. This is a very simple design that took just a few minutes to pop into the containers—an added bonus of working with millet.


In the landscape, millet is best planted en masse. Taller varieties create an impressive backdrop—‘Purple Majesty’ is striking behind any brightly colored flowers, particularly orange ones. Try it with petunias or zinnias—it’s also great paired with silver-foliage plants like dusty miller. A stand of ‘Jade Princess’ with its bold, contrasting colors makes a dramatic focal point while adding height to a border or large container—it even lends a tropical look. These plants can take the heat, so use them to edge a scorching hot driveway or alongside a fence or foundation. Shorter varieties make striking accent plants as well.

‘Jade Princess’, ‘Purple Majesty’, ‘Purple Baron’, and ‘Jester’ are all available in the 8-inch pot.