Grasses and deer-smashes for December Foliage Follow-Up


A hard freeze has not yet walloped my garden, but even if it had I’d still be able to enjoy the plants I’m showing today for Foliage Follow-Up. Take pearl millet, aka ‘Vertigo’ grass (Pennisetum purpureum ‘Vertigo’), for example. This was the most-asked-about plant on my garden tour in October, and it still looks handsome today, even though its dark leaves have lost their warm-season luster. A few tufty blooms poke up here and there, which surprised me since I’d read this plant was sterile and wouldn’t bloom.

I’ve been trialing this freebie from Proven Winners in my garden all year. Click for an earlier post I wrote about ‘Vertigo’.


My most shade-tolerant grass is native inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), which I grow as a tall groundcover in my shady, deer-infested front-side garden.


One day the Texas mountain laurel in the middle will be a spreading ornamental, and the sea oats will be the understory. For now the sea oats are the dominant feature. (Ignore the live oak sprouts coming up in the gravel path, please.) I like sea oats in all seasons: fresh spring sprigs to abundant summer leaves to fall’s dangling seedheads. I leave it standing until mid-February, and when I whack it back, new sprigs are already coming up.


Speaking of deer infestation, a buck has made me very unhappy lately by rubbing its antlers into the crown of my wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii), which after a few years had attained a beautiful, vase-like form and good height. Imagine my stream of muttered curses when I came outside one morning and saw what he’d done: a smashed center, sword-like leaves torn off, and a flattened plant. Too late, I took action, spraying deer repellent, placing these wire plant supports around the plant for (hopefully) some protection and to prop it back up, and putting out my Wireless Deer Fence posts (more on these later). I hope the plant will recover its form next spring.


Lastly, the Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) along the foundation and in a hedge along the property line have responded with vigor to all the fall rain. They’ve put out a flush of new leaves, shrugged off a fungal or mildew issue that was beginning to concern me, and are looking great again. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything but just wait out a problem, am I right?

This is my December post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on in your garden, or one you’ve visited, this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I really appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

31 Responses

  1. Tina says:

    That ‘Vertigo’ is a handsome thing, to be sure; I can see why so many asked about it. Do you have to replace it each year? I love inland sea oats. I know lots of people complain that it’s invasive, but I haven’t found it to be much of an issue, though with our rain this year, I might be singing a different tune next spring. Here’s my FFU contribution for this month, a two-fer also celebrating blooms. Of course I would do that. http://mygardenersays.com/2015/12/15/increasing-the-light

    Thanks for hosting!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Tina, I’ve only had the ‘Vertigo’ since springtime, but Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil says hers comes back every year. I’ll whack it back in February and see what happens. And yes, I love inland sea oats too. In dry shade it’s not very invasive, in my experience. —Pam

  2. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Your Vertigo grass is gorgeous! Darned deer. (Venison for Christmas dinner?) My FFU contribution is here: http://outlawgarden.blogspot.com/2015/12/wednesday-vignette-and-foliage-follow-up.html

  3. Ron says:

    I will be looking forward to your “wireless deer fence” posts later…big problem for us here in San Angelo as well.

  4. Alison says:

    I wish I could find that Vertigo grass here. I think it’s available in Portland, but I’ve never seen it for sale up here in the Tacoma area. I feel your pain on the deer damage. I don’t have deer but I do have raccoons running rampant. They destroyed whole areas of my garden last summer. My FF post is here: http://bonneylassie.blogspot.com/2015/12/foliage-followup-december-2016.html

  5. Kris P says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen ‘Vertigo’ here but I’ll have to look for it. It would be perennial here and I too love things with dark strapping leaves. The Phormium ‘Dark Delight’ I planted a few years ago in the back border has disappointed me with its tendency to burn and bleach out in summer so the grass might be a good substitute. I’m sorry about your Hesperaloe! I experience much the same pain after one of our raccoon rampages and I’ve yet to find an effective deterrent.

    Thanks for hosting Pam! My foliage follow-up post is here: http://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2015/12/new-foliage-plants.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      My two ‘Vertigo’s are in part shade, Kris, but of course we get tons of heat, and they do just fine with that. I know what you mean about phormium lust though. —Pam

  6. I am so thankful to not have to deal with deer damage, hope your cages and other steps work. Oh and that last photo…gorgeous! You’ve done such a wonderful job.

    I dedicated my plant lust blog post today to foliage, the bits and pieces of the garden I can see from the house since I can’t actually get out to spend time in the garden (rain rain rain…).

    http://plantlust.com/blog/2015/12/december-foliage/

  7. Wait! I’m going to double dip, since my Wednesday Vignette is foliage focused too: http://www.thedangergarden.com/2015/12/wednesday-vignette-upside-down.html

  8. Shirley says:

    As if our weather extremes weren’t enough, we have deer and armadillos too!

    The Vertigo grass was stunning during the tour and something to look for in the future.

    I happened to hit Kumamoto En Japanese garden at the right moment:
    http://rockoakdeer.blogspot.com/2015/12/enjoying-fall-foliage-of-kumamoto-en.html

  9. Heidi says:

    Looking back I see that your Vertigo grew quickly, it’s a showstopper! I have a grass that has the same form, but is a mix of green and purple, and it also put out seedheads this fall. It wasn’t labeled when I got it, but after research I think it’s Princess Caroline. I’ve been successful with it, so I want to plant more grasses like it.
    The lights on your entryway are very stylish, nice touch having them turned on ;)

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Heidi. That was serendipitous. I didn’t notice that I’d left them on until I was taking that picture, and I appreciated how they brightened the scene. —Pam

  10. peter schaar says:

    Great photos as usual, Pam! I too liked the last one. For those live oak seedlings and other weeds in the gravel walk there is an “old lady trick”. Pour boiling water on them. Environmentally benign and very easy and effective.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’d heard about treating weeds that way but have never heard about anyone doing that with their oak sprouts. Unfortunately, due to the quantity of sprouts in my garden and their distance from the kitchen (lots of up and down steps plus a long walk around the house), I won’t be attempting that home remedy. We’ll stick with weed-eating them. But if anyone here does try it, I’d love to hear how it works for you! Don’t report now though. Do it in mid-spring or early summer for a real test, when the sprouts are most active. —Pam

  11. Your ‘Vertigo’ grass is amazing and looking so good for this time of year. It adds such nice color and texture to the garden and I can see why it got so much attention on your garden tour. Thanks so much for hosting Foliage Follow-Up.

    Here is Post for December: http://landscapedesignbylee.blogspot.com/2015/12/garden-bloggers-bloom-day-foliage.html#.VnH8K_krKUk

  12. With this post, I accept her invitation to join in with my favorite foliage, which will include a ridiculous amount of the color lime green that I like to grow in drama garden. http://prettyfyit.blogspot.com/2015/12/foliage-follow-up-december-2015.html

    • btw, Pam, we have in common that screech owls nest in our gardens. well, we also both have areas that deer can get into, but that is not as cool as living with screech owls, is it?

      • Pam/Digging says:

        The screeches should be back next month or so, as they start nesting. I can’t wait. Meanwhile, my daughter and I saw a great horned owl fly over the garden last week. Wonderful! —Pam

        • great horned owl, wow! our screech owls nest in the spring, then leave and return in the fall. we saw him or her head popped out of the nest box at dusk tonight. they are said to sometimes raise a second batch of owlets later in the season, but ours seem to be solitary in the fall, just appreciating the safe shelter the nest box provides. our outdoor cat provides a steady stream of dead rodents, which the owls scavenge. we usually see owlets in may.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Hi, Willow. I’m so glad you accepted the invitation and joined in this month, and now I know about your blog and fun, colorful garden! I’m sorry not to leave this comment on your site, but I need the Name/URL option since I don’t stay logged into Google when I read blogs. Anyway, I enjoyed your post and hope to see you again next month! —Pam

      • i added a “subscribe by Email” gadget to my blog. does that help? i have no idea what i am doing on computers, that is why i love to garden. i do not know how to give you ” the Name/URL option “.

        • Pam/Digging says:

          Willow, you’ll find the Name/URL option in your comments settings. Enabling that option allows people like me, who aren’t logged into Google or WordPress, to leave a comment on your site. I think the default setting on Blogger blogs like yours is NOT to have Name/URL enabled, so you’ll have to change it. Sometimes people disable it because they feel it opens their blog to spam comments, but enabling a verification plugin like Captcha should keep most spammers at bay. Anyway, thanks in advance for changing your setting, if you decide to. I love to comment on other blogs when I’m able to! —Pam

  13. You have beautiful foliage. Those deer are a curse sometimes.

  14. Evan says:

    That swath of mahonia is beautiful! I hope your hesperaloe recovers well in spring. I’m so glad I finally got a deer fence around the garden. They were a regular and frequent menace before.

    My post this month combines flowers and foliage again: http://practicalplantgeek.blogspot.com/2015/12/flowers-foliage-and-vignettes.html

  15. Love your grasses, Pam. We have different ones here in the Northeast. My Foliage Follow Up posting is a bit late this month. Sorry. Thanks for hosting. P. x http://pamsenglishcottagegarden.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-december-garden-winter-weather.html

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