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04 Oct 2016

The Potted Desert Garden: This Grass Is Perfect for Pots … Well, for Nine Months of the Year, at Least

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Muhlenbergia capillaris. Muhlenbergia capillaris.

Regal Mist Pink Muhly—or Muhlenbergia capillaris—is probably my favorite landscape grass in this part of the country. I love the way the sun shines through its plumes during its flowering season. That hazy but eye-catching frothy mist of deep pink is what first caught my eye when I saw a mass planting in a landscape. All I could say was, “Amazing!”

So grab your gloves and tools, because now that cooler weather is here, it’s a good time to plant this stunning grass.

The grass stays relatively small and is drought-tolerant, but thrives with regular watering. Its bloom period is during the fall months, and it boasts glossy green leaves the rest of the year—until you cut it back annually to the ground in January. As a clumping grass, it only grows in size and does not propagate new plants. It also is not prone to reseeding, so you can trust that it will only be where you plant it. Regal Mist thrives in full-sun and reflected-heat locations.

People often ask about planting these gorgeous grasses in pots—and this leads to a bit of a conundrum. Yes, the plants look great. They are clean and look splendid around a pool—plus you don’t need to worry about them throwing off debris you’ll have to clean up. They will wave in the breeze, and with regular but lesser amounts of water, will reward you with a stunning show all fall and early winter. The color intensifies as the desert cools off into the 50s and 60s. Its seeds provide a banquet for native birds, and the grass can provide these same birds with shelter—while also being critter-resistant.

However, there is a problem: The grass must be cut back in January. It will start sprouting new leaf growth as the spring warming trends begin, in March or so. So what should one do with this stark pot from January to early April? I am definitely a gardener who prefers immediate gratification, and no matter how splendid the grass is in the fall, it’s a bummer when it brings nothing to one’s container garden for half of the winter.

One suggestion to deal with this problem: When the grass is cut back in January, plant pansies or other winter annuals around the perimeter of the pot to hide the cutback grass in the center. Of course, this means the grass needs to be placed in a pot large enough to support the root space needed for these plants. I recommend a 22-24-inch diameter pot.

Of course, you could also put the pot away somewhere out of view and replace it with another temporary pot that is filled with the look you want this winter—and then bring back the Regal Mist come April.

Whatever you decide … happy gardening!

After more than 3 1/2 years of The Potted Desert Garden, this is the final column by Marylee Pangman, the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. With more than 18 years of experience, she has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, is now available. Buy it online at potteddesert.com. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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