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     A Master Gardener's guide to the art of gardening in a hot dry climate 
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fountain grass, society garlic, flax roses
Red fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) holds a dominant place in a mixed border that includes white roses, Society garlic, flax and star jasmine. Note: Flax (Phormium) does not do well is desert areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas where it whithers and dies in summer heat.

Ornamental Grasses


In recent years ornamental grasses and other grass-like plants have grown in popularity particularly as accents and borders in rock mulch style gardens. Many are fast-growing, very drought tolerant and will even thrive with considerable neglect. As a rule of thumb, they need fast-draining soil. 

pampas grass hedge
In Fall, the seed-bearing plumes of fast growing Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) rise to 20 feet high with little need for irrigation or fertilizer. By mid-winter, this perennial should be cut back to 18 inches tall. It will re-grow to the height shown in the following summer.  Avoid planting the Pampas Grass Cortaderia jubata which is an invasive weed. Given the right conditions -- usually near a stream -- it will self-seed and spread wildly.
blue fescue, deer grass, aloe Common Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) - this is the short, clumping, fine blue or silvery gray grass, often seen as an edging to borders. The ‘Elijah Blue’ selection is relatively long lived and very blue. To 1 foot high. It is not necessary to cut it back in winter.  In this photo  it has been used as a dominant plant replacing a conventional green lawn.
deer grass muhlenbergia Deer grass (Muhlenbergia) looks like a larger cousin of some of the fescues.  It grows to about 2 feet tall during the summer, but unlike pampas grass and fountain grass it does not need to be trimmed back in winter.  Needs very little water.
 

Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – looks like giant blue fescue grass, but grows to 2 to 3 feet high and wide. Bright blue leaves with tall stems of yellow flowers in the Spring. Needs rich soil.  

red fountain grass pennisetum
Red Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) - has reddish brown leaves and rose-colored plumes. Dies down in winter and should be cut back to a few inches high. Be sure to get the red variety, the white fountain grass is invasive and has been displacing native grasses. For best appearance Fountain Grass should be planted in dense clusters or as part of a mixed border.

Flax (Phormium tenax and lots of hybrids) - These New Zealand natives can be 5 to 7 foot tall giants, but with the proliferation of hybrids, smaller, more colorful plants are now available. You may have to ask for some of the newer colors – and they are glorious. For example, ‘Morticia’ has purple-black leaves; ‘Dazzler’ has scarlet leaves striped with maroon; ‘Tiny Tiger’ (only 1 foot tall at maturity) has variegated leaves that become tinged with pink as the weather cools and ‘Tom Thumb’ gives you green, wavy-edged leaves with a reddish border. You will have to put most of these in large pots out of direct sunlight; they do not do well in hot summer areas such as Phoenix or Las Vegas.

japanese blood grass Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrical ‘Rubra’) - leaves emerge in spring with brilliant red tips and a green base. The red color intensifies as it grows to 1 or 2 feet tall. Rarely blooms and should be cut back almost to the ground in mid-winter. The photo, taken in early Spring, shows young Japanese Blood grass.

society garlic Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) – a member of the lily family, has very fine bluish-green leaves with shoots of lavender flowers in Spring and summer. On the right, it is shown in a pot filled with rich soil. It retains its leaves all year round. It also emits the scent of garlic to the nearby area.

Other members of the lily family, including Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are also excellent grass-like plants for hot climates.

 


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1.  Flowering plants that reliably bloom in scorching mid-summer heat.

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8.  South African aloes for brilliant late winter color in your garden.

9.  Frugal gardening tips to save you money.

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