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EDNA ASKS: Last year I saw a stunning ornamental grass that reminded me of a puffy pink cloud. It was planted in multiple groups along with groupings of blooming Mexican sage. Can you identify this grass?

Our best guess is Plumtastic Pink, Muhly grass. The botanical name is Mulenbergia capillaris ‘Irvine.’ It is described as a grass that has vivid showy plumes that bloom late summer through early fall. And, ‘Irvine’ does remind one of purple clouds, so your description was pretty accurate.

This grass is a knockout when planted in mass or even planted as a stand alone specimen in a large pot, as it can reach 2 to 3 feet in height and width. It’s also a good habitat plant known to attract songbirds and beneficial insects. “Irvine” requires low to regular water once established.

A compact, purple, late-blooming Santa Barbara Mexican bush sage and colorful Muhly grass together make a complementary combination in a large landscape. Mexican bush sage will reach a height and width of 3 feet and is evergreen. As an added bonus, the Mexican sage is considered to be an excellent firescape plant.

Kennedy writes: We recently purchased a house after being displaced from the fire. The garden needs some renovation and the old turf is weedy. Friends keep telling me to sheet mulch and they have described the process somewhat but I feel some more input on the subject would be helpful. Help please!

Sheet mulching is a fairly easy way to suppress weeds for the average homeowner. There is no need for heavy machinery to remove the turf and get rid of the old compacted underlying soil filled with roots and noxious weeds.

Here is the process:

1. Gather your supplies, such as stacks of newspaper or stacks of cut-up cardboard. Order compost. Figure your square footage to determine how much you will need. Order fresh mulch for the final touch, keeping square footage and depth in mind. Landscape suppliers will be happy to assist you to determine the amounts you will need for the project. Plan out your irrigation system. Wyatt irrigation and Harmony Farm Supply offer excellent help and supplies.

2. Mow the lawn (scalp) as close as possible. There is no need to rake or clean up clippings.

3. Bring in compost and spread it at least 3 inches deep. More is better. New plants will need the extra depth to accommodate their root ball.

4. Lay cardboard or thick layers of newspaper over the top of the scalped and composted site, being careful to overlap the cardboard/newspaper so no light can reach the soil. If using newspaper, it helps to wet the paper as you proceed to prevent it from blowing away.

5. Plant smaller plants before the final layer of mulching for the finishing touch. Is your irrigation system in place? Do be careful when planting to keep the root crowns free from mulch in order to prevent rot.

The benefits of sheet mulching go beyond weed suppression. You will also improve your soil because beneficial soil organisms will thrive. Sheet mulching will also allow you to use less water by helping retain moisture in your soil. Your plants will be healthier and that old turf will be gone without the expense of hauling it to the landfill.

A tip from Kristine S.: Add a piece of copper to the water in birdbaths or fountains to prevent algae from forming. We are trying this experiment and will report back.

Barbara K. offers some information on a raccoon, rats and possibly deer deterrent product. Some of her friends have found it be successful. There is a site you can refer to if interested: niteguard.com. There is also a YouTube video on the Nite-Guard product.

Sonya asks: Do you know the name of the azalea that has bright orange-yellow blossoms and is deliciously fragrant?

I believe you are referring to the deciduous Exbury hybrid azalea. There are named varieties available. The leaves turn beautiful colors in the fall before they drop, adding another dimension to the shrub.

For those gardeners not familiar with the Exbury hybrids, they are late bloomers and are at their peak in April and May, depending on weather conditions.

If you should visit a nursery that carries this azalea, be sure and breathe in its fragrance. It just might convince you to include this gem in your garden. This current season has been an outstanding show for all types of azaleas.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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