I'm planning to put in a privacy hedge of New Mexico privet, and I would like it to be dense. I plan to let it grow naturally and not pruned. How far apart should I space the plants?

— Joseph

Actually, the answer to your question depends a bit on the look you are eventually trying to achieve and how patient you are.

New Mexico privet is a wonderful xeric shrub that will grow 10–20 feet tall, but that size will vary depending on how much water the plant receives. While it is very drought tolerant, it will grow faster and get bigger with regular watering.

You could probably count on watering it once every month or two (once it is established) if you're really trying to save on water, but watering once a week to twice a month will result in a plant that gets much bigger much more quickly.

New Mexico privet grows in a somewhat narrow, oval shape when young and broadens out with time, eventually becoming rounded in outline or almost so.

You could plant them 8–12 feet apart, but they wouldn't fill out the hedge for 5–15 years and you may have some minor gaps in the hedge. Planting them 5 feet apart would probably give you a solid hedge in 3–5 years and ensure the hedge is solid top to bottom and from end to end.

And there's certainly nothing wrong with compromising somewhere in the middle.

I've heard that Hameln dwarf fountain grass can be grown in containers. Could I grow it on my balcony in containers that are 17 inches across? Can it stand direct summer sun in the afternoon?

— Sally

I think it would work fine in containers like that. Keep in mind whenever you grow something in a container, you run a higher risk of losing the plant because of the cold over the winter.

The reason for this is that the roots of plants aren't as hardy as the tops of the plant. A plant might be cold hardy down to minus 20 degrees, but the roots will die at 20 degrees.

Normally, that isn't a worry with a plant in the ground because the mass of the soil tends to buffer dips in temperature. In a pot surrounded by the cold air, however, it can sometimes get cold enough to damage or even kill the plant.

This isn't a huge risk, but you need to be aware of it. You can give your plant the most protection by pulling the pot up against the house so the warmth there can moderate the frigid winter temps.

One other thing to be aware of is you'll have to water the plant occasionally throughout the winter. Figure on soaking it once every three weeks or so, depending on the weather (more often if it is unseasonably warm and dry, less if it is very cold and damp).

The only problem with this is that when water freezes, it expands and ceramic or clay pots can break. You're safest to use plastic, concrete or wooden containers.

I have a giant sacaton grass I want to move. I thought it was OK to move in spring, but I just read fall is best to move grass. Can I still do it in the spring if I do it very early?

— Laura

Actually, I think the best time to transplant is early spring, usually sometime in March.

You want to do it while the plant is still dormant, but right before it is due to wake up and start growing so it can settle into its new home and heal the damage transplanting has done.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email info@bookcliffgardens.com.

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