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Most of the time when you walk through a parking lot, you are often greeted by the appearance of islands scattered throughout overplanted with badly maintained shrubs.

Last month, I drove into a parking lot that was quite unusual in that it was planted with attractive succulents and not ugly shrubs.



Instead of shrubs, the medians were planted with beautiful agave specimens.


In addition to different types of agave, were gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) succulents, which added a welcome respite to the crowded and over-pruned shrubs that usually characterize most parking lots.


In addition to the agave and other succulents were  flowering shrubs such as Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), which was allowed to grow into its natural shape.


This parking lot was located in front of a hospital where my husband had an appointment for a routine procedure.  Our walk through the parking lot took twice as long as it would normally take with me pausing every few seconds to take pictures of the plants.


It was so refreshing to see succulents such as these  in parking lot islands instead of struggling shrubs.  They thrive in the hot, reflected heat while needing very little water.

Maybe we should rethink what we plant in parking lot islands and ditch the high-maintenance, thirsty shrubs?

Yesterday, in my latest “Landscape No-No” post, I asked you if you could figure out what was wrong with this landscape that I drove by earlier this summer.

I had some great guesses.  

Here are a few of my favorites…

“The grasses are planted too closely together.”

“There are too many similarly-shaped plants.”

AND

“The large Pine tree is too large for this landscape and planted too closely to the wall where its can fall or its roots can cause damage.”

Well, they are all great answers and are correct.  BUT, there is something else wrong with this landscape, which no one noticed.


Look closely at the two photos below…


Above, is Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’).  


It is a beautiful ornamental grass and is fine for this landscape.


BUT, notice the ornamental grass to the right with the cream-colored plumes.


Here is a closer view…


This grass is also called Fountain Grass, just without the ‘Purple’.


The problem with regular Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), is that while attractive – it is considered an invasive plant in many areas including the southern half of the United States and Hawaii.


Native to Africa and the Middle East, it spreads easily and is overtaking areas of the desert, outcompeting the native plants and grasses.


The reason that it’s a problem here is that it was widely planted in the mid 20th century.  Unfortunately, that was before people knew it would become a problem.


In this landscape, the homeowners were probably thinking that they were planting the same type of grass as the Purple Fountain Grass (which is not invasive).


SO WHAT CAN BE DONE?


Well, removal is necessary and requires someone with a strong back to take it out.


A great alternative to Fountain Grass that looks even better is called ‘Gulf Muhly’ or ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’).



It starts out green in spring and summer…



As fall approaches, burgundy-colored plumes begin to appear…



Once winter arrives, the plumes fade to an attractive wheat-color…


Maintenance is very easy – simply prune back to 6 inches in late winter/early spring.

**For more information on Fountain Grass, including on where it is found and how to manage it, click here.

I promise to show additional “Landscape No-No’s” and how to deal with them in the future.

If you like to grow tomatoes AND you live in the desert, then you know how important it is to shade your tomato plants during the summer months.


Most vegetable gardeners haul out 50% shade cloth, which does a great job at shading tomatoes and protecting them from the intense desert sun.  


Personally, I don’t particularly like how shade cloth looks.  As a horticulturist and landscape designer – I like gardens to look beautiful and that extends to vegetable gardens.


So instead of putting up shade cloth over my tomato plants this year, I decided to create natural shade for them.

 
My tomatoes are surrounded by giant sunflowers on their east, west and southern sides.  If you can only add sunflowers to one side, then choose the west side to protect them from the intense afternoon sun.
 
 
Throughout the day, they experience filtered shade.  My tomatoes look great without any signs of sunburn.
 
Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and you can start planting them in March and continue throughout the summer.
 
 
Because sunflowers only live a few months, I have planted a second crop of sunflowers in between my existing sunflowers.  I will soon plant a third crop in order to provide shade all summer and into early fall for my tomatoes.
 
An added bonus to planting sunflowers is that they provide food and shelter for birds and you can enjoy their delicious sunflower seeds.
 
 
Another reason to use sunflowers instead of shade cloth for tomatoes is that sunflowers are a lot less expensive then shade cloth and are an inexpensive and sustainable solution.
 
How about you?  What do you use to shade your tomatoes?