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England: Pretty pink grass can do well in drought conditions
Pink muhly grass - photo by Russ England
Question: Is there a readily available native ornamental grass that would do well in dry conditions?Answer: You may want to try pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries). This is a clump-forming grass that is native to much of the eastern United States and parts of the Midwest as well.Long-lived and resistant to pests and diseases, this grass is a great low-maintenance perennial. While it prefers full sun, it also does well in partial shade.Sometimes called Gulf muhly, it is common in wetlands but also grows in upland areas. Some references equate M. capillaries with M. filipes, which is the sweetgrass used to make the baskets you see for sale in and around Charleston, S.C.Whether these are the same or different grasses is something for the experts to hash out. Either way, if you want to try basket weaving, the lush coastal grass will likely produce a better product than grass grown on a dry site.Pink muhly provides great fall color for border areas or mass plantings. It adapts to a wide variety of soil conditions and is said to be very drought tolerant once it is established.How many times have you heard something is "drought tolerant once it is established?" What that means is "plan to water it deeply on a regular basis for the first year after you plant it."Like many other drought-tolerant plants, muhly grass will perform best in nondrought conditions, but when those water bans come along the objective is survival. As dry as it is now, many gardeners are looking for plants that look good under average conditions while surviving the extremes on their own.Question: I am thinking of trying to collect rainwater from my roof. Is this practical for the average gardener?Answer: This can be a very practical idea, depending on your particular circumstance. Assuming you already have gutters on your house, collecting rainwater may only require minor modifications to a downspout and adding a container to store the water.Several Web sites sell clean, used, plastic 55-gallon drums that make excellent rain catchers. Many of these sell for less than $100, including shipping.For around $200, you can buy specially designed rain barrels with built-in drains and screened lids to exclude mosquitoes. These are usually around 50-gallon or 30-gallon capacity, available in a variety of colors and can be linked together for greater storage capacity.You need a flat spot to support a container and a convenient way to remove the water. You may need to put the container on a platform high enough to set a bucket under a bottom-draining spigot or hose.A one-inch rain on just 100 square feet of roof will produce about 60 gallons of runoff. This means that even a relatively light rain could fill a 55-gallon barrel placed under the average downspout.Only you can decide whether the water you collect would be worth the expense and effort involved. One obvious downside is that, during extreme droughts such as we are experiencing now, there is very little rain to collect.Another often-overlooked source of water during extreme heat is your air conditioner. I have found that mine produces about 10 gallons per day during the hottest summer days.I have a half barrel setting under the drip tube from my air conditioner that will hold two to three days worth of drippings. It’s free water, easy to collect and available when it’s most needed.Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.