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Last week, as my husband and I were pulling out our local Home Depot when I saw what looked like mini Christmas trees throughout the parking lot islands.

mini Christmas trees

mini Christmas trees

I grabbed my cell phone and took a picture of these funny-shaped plants.

Do you want to know what they are?

No. They aren’t Christmas trees…

badly pruned

Those cone-shaped plants are in reality badly pruned Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grasses.

These are my favorite ornamental grasses for the desert climate and although they are badly pruned, they did get some things right.

– For one, Pink Muhly is a great plant for parking lot islands as they can handle full sun.

In addition, they were pruned at the right time of year.

Just not the right way…

Pink Muhly grasses should be pruned back to 3 inches in height, straight across when the last frost date has passed. In the Phoenix area, where I live, that is early March.

Believe it or not, pruning them the correct way is easier then making them cone-shaped and once the warmer temperatures of spring arrive, these beautiful ornamental grasses will leaf out again.

badly pruned

Once fall arrives, they produce lovely, burgundy plumes…

badly pruned

In winter, the plumes will fade and become straw colored, which adds a nice touch of wintery color.

badly pruned

The Pink Muhly grasses, below, weren’t pruned the right way either.

badly pruned

They resemble rounded balls and weren’t cut back enough.  But, they look much better then the mini Christmas tree shaped ones.  Don’t you think?

I love these grasses and have planted them in many areas, including along golf courses, churches and other common areas. And, I just recently planted them in my backyard around my flagstone seating area.

badly pruned

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.

What's Wrong With This Landscape? - And The Answer Is...

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…

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum')

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…

Fountain Grass

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’).

Fountain Grass

It starts out green in spring and summer…

Fountain Grass

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

Fountain Grass
Fountain Grass

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

Fountain Grass

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.

Okay, you were probably thinking that I meant the ‘other’ type of grass.  But the type of grass I am referring to cannot be smoked, (at least I don’t think it can).  ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’), is a beautiful ornamental grass to include in your landscape.  It is low-maintenance, thrives almost anywhere and has stunning burgundy foliage in late summer and early fall.

USES:  This Texas native looks best when planted in groups of at least 3, but I think groups of 5 or 7 are better.  This ornamental grass grows to approximately 3 ft. High and wide.  However, when flowering, add 1 – 2 ft. to their total height.  They can be planted in full sun, areas with reflected heat and even in areas with partial shade.  

This ornamental grass is tolerant of most soils.  Regal Mist is a great choice for planting around pools, boulders and in front of walls.  I have planted them around golf courses, and many people would ask me, “What is that plant?  It is beautiful.”  It is evergreen in areas with mild winters, but it is hardy to -10 degrees F (Zone 6).  Frost will turn them light tan in color. 

 Regal Mist when not in flower

MAINTENANCE:  You can hardly get more low-maintenance then this – prune back severely in the winter, almost to the ground, to remove old foliage and spent flowers.  I do not fertilize Regal Mist, and they look just great.  Although drought tolerant once established, supplemental water is necessary for them is needed for them to look their best and to flower.  Self-seeding is not usually a problem when they are irrigated with drip-irrigation.

So, for those of you who are frequently asking me for a beautiful, low-maintenance plant – this is it.  Include a few in your garden, and I promise you will have people asking you, “What is that beautiful grass?”