Don’t Let Fountain Grass Become a Weed

red or purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum)

red or purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum)

What sort of concept can be noble, money-saving and victimizing at the same time? The concept of drought-tolerant, low-maintenance gardens.
Over the years, I have seen quite a few gardens that were designed for drought tolerance and ease of maintenance – only to be turned into scruffy patches of plants where weediness, not beauty, was on display.
I recently visited one of the newly remodeled Valley libraries and saw that it had become a victim of the drought-tolerant concept. Unkempt and chaotic, the landscape surrounding the library must be an embarrassment to library employees and visitors alike. Gardens such as these remind me of the famous fable of the emperor’s new clothes in that no one dares to say what even a child can see: “Look! A garden of weeds!”
Aside from the hundreds of robust specimens of prickly lettuce, even the plants that are supposed to be there look weedy, especially the burgundy fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Atropurpureum’) and the pale blue sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina ‘Glauca’).
In the Valley, fountain grass needs to be cut back within 12 inches of the ground in late winter in order to grow up fresh and symmetric in the spring. Sheep’s fescue, in the Valley, simply cannot stand more than half a day’s sun, at most, yet in the library planting it gets all-day sun.
I do not mean to imply that landscapes and gardens with-drought tolerant plants are bound for failure. Rather, such gardens need careful planning and a fair amount of maintenance. A heavy mulch, at least 2 inches deep, should be seen at all times.
One of the most effective gardens consisting of many drought-tolerant plants can be seen at Soka University in Calabasas. It is meticulously maintained and irrigated and benefits from the protection of large oak trees.
Q: Twenty years ago I moved to my hillside home in Encino. There was a small patch of asparagus fern in the yard that now is taking over everything. I have tried in vain to eradicate this intruder. Please let me know what I can do to eliminate this pesky plant.
– Francine Oschin,
A: Asparagus fern (Asparagus ‘Sprengeri’) is one of those tricky ornamentals that will turn from charming to alarming in the fullness of time. It is high on that short list of infernal, invasive ground covers that include ivy, spider plant, spiderwort, violets and periwinkle (Vinca major). Where asparagus fern is concerned, you can don rubber gloves, spray round-up on a sponge, and then dab the sponge on the visible shoots of the fern. These shoots will then die back to their rhizomes. If you persist in this mission, you should eventually vanquish your asparagus fern.

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