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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.

When I am out and about doing landscape consults, I often take the opportunity afterward to drive around the neighborhood and take pictures of examples of both bad and good landscaping.


Last week, I was near my old neighborhood, which is populated by ranch homes with carports.  Many of the homes were built in the 1950’s and while some had landscaping that dated back to that time – there were also great examples of updated landscapes that complimented the ranch style homes.


This one in particular, stood out to me…


The homeowner updated the facade of the house by adding textured stone and removing the old window shutters in favor of newer window treatments.

But, what I loved was the landscape design.  

I’ll break it down into three parts and why I liked it…


The front raised beds are filled with succulents, including some that will flower.  The octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), blue elf aloe  (Aloe x ‘Blue Elf’) and lady’s slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). 

A large container filled with purple and burgundy petunias provide a great splash of color.  

To the left, a palo blanco tree (Acacia willardiana), is leafless, but new green growth will soon appear.  The beauty of this tree lies in its white trunk.

Growing in the grass is an olive tree.  I’m not a huge fan because I hate pruning tree suckers.  But, it looks very nice in this area.


These raised beds are filled with a pair of octopus agave that are flowering.  Many people make the mistake of cutting off the flowering stalk of agave as it begins to grow.  That is a HUGE mistake.  The flowering stalk is the crowning glory of the agave and is beautiful.  Cutting off the stalk will not keep the agave alive.  Once they flower, they begin to fade and then die.  

In this case, simply replace the octopus agave with new ones.

I do like the ornamental grasses in the raised bed.  I think it makes a great alternative to shrubs or even flowering perennials.  

**What I don’t like is the purple fountain grass.  I find that it keeps getting wider and unwieldy.  I do like the Regal Mist (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) that flanks the fountain grass because it has a neater growth habit.


I really like the plantings along the driveway (except for the fountain grass – I’d use ‘Regal Mist’ instead).

The contrast of textures between the octopus agave and the grasses is just wonderful.  Petunias add color and serve as a ground cover as well.

This landscape is a great example of how using frost-tolerant plants can help your landscape look great, even in winter.  It weathered the severe cold snap we had a couple of months ago, just beautifully.

**Compare the next door neighbor’s landscape.  Frost-damaged ficus trees, (which will have to be cut back severely) and poodle-pruned shrubs.

Which landscape design would you prefer?


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


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

Do you want to know what they are?

Those cone-shaped plants are in reality badly-pruned ‘Regal Mist’ (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist’) ornamental grasses.

Although they are badly pruned, they did get some things right.

– For example, Regal Mist is a great plant for parking lot islands.

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

Just not the right way…

Regal Mist should be prune back to 4 – 6 inches in height, straight across.  

Believe it or not, pruning them the correct way is easier then making them cone-shaped. 

Once the warmer temperatures of spring arrive, these beautiful ornamental grasses will leaf out again.

Once fall arrives, they will produce burgundy plumes…

In winter, the plumes will fade and become straw colored.

The Regal Mist, below, weren’t pruned the right way either.

 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?

Do you grow Regal Mist?  

I love these grasses and have planted them in many areas, including along golf courses, churches and other common areas.


They are also great for the home landscape as well.

I especially like that they have to be pruned only once a year.

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?”