Pink muhly grasses practically sell themselves! Once you see those pink fronds, you will find yourself getting one (most likely three or more) for your garden. They look spectacular planted in masses. They also make great additions to cut-flower arrangements. If you want your garden to show off, then muhlenbergia capillaris is a must have for fall color to mix in with your beautiful flowers.
This grass does best in full sun to light shade, sandy soil and dry, well-drained soils. Pink muhly can even grow near wetlands, in light salinity and acid soils, survive occasional flooding (if the soil is well-draining) and high winds. Once established, they are tolerant of drought, heat, salt and humidity, but during long periods of drought, they do require some watering.
They are a smaller grass, at 2-3 feet tall and wide, and they are their showiest from September through November. As with other native grasses, they are considered a “winter interest” perennial, so should not be cut down in the fall. Also, native insects use the hollow stems to overwinter in.
I don’t cut any of my grasses back until I see new growth in the spring. I will cut them back to a couple of inches above the new growth. I then leave the cuttings in my garden, just in case the overwintering insects haven’t left them yet. The past two years, I have not cut my grasses back at all, to see if I can see a benefit to leaving them, versus cutting them in the spring. (I like the minimum-gardening attitude.) But that is a different article.
Muhly grass is perfect for coastal, naturalized, cottage, formal, meadow, wildflower and low-maintenance gardens, used as borders or edges, and is deer- and rabbit-resistant. In many areas, they are used for erosion control. The beautiful green summer foliage turns into a stunning haze of pink fall color.
Do you have poor soil like me? Then put in a cover of pink muhly — they will blend in well with your fall-blooming pollinator perennials. Imagine pink muhly mixed with your asters and spotted beebalm. I have put my Brandywine viburnum as a backdrop to my muhly grass, asters beebalm and love grass, and I just love that look.
After doing my research for this article I am now going to add some scutellaria incana, as I think bringing in that beautiful blueish-purple will make my muhly grass pop!
Want to do a native-plant pollinator garden but worried about your HOA? Add some muhlenbergia capillaris. Studies have shown that the public likes native gardens better when they feel they are aesthetically pleasing, and fall blooming muhly grass is that exactly.
• Named for Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg, a Lutheran pastor from Pennsylvania who is also a distinguished amateur botanist, mineralogist and chemist.
• The Garden Club of America picked muhly grass as Plant of the Year, and awarded it the 2012 Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Medal.
• Following the African Americans’ originally from West Africa, South Carolinians keep the tradition of weaving of gathering baskets with muhly, pine needles, bulrush and palmetto leaves.
• Muhly grass was used by the Navajos to make hairbrushes and brooms.
• Songbirds, turkeys and small animals eat the seeds, and the grass provides year-round groundcover and protects small animals, pollinator insects and birds from predators.
• Attracts butterflies and is a host plant for moths and butterflies.
• Great habitat for migrating butterflies and nesting for caterpillars.
• Agastache — hummingbird mint
• Carex pensylvanica — sedge
• Eragrostis spectabilis — purple lovegrass
• Helenium autumnale — sneezeweed
• Helianthus divaricatus — woodland sunflower
• Hylotelephium telephium “Herbstfreude” — autumn joy stonecrop
• Liatris aspera — blazing star
• Monarda punctata — spotted beebalm
• Physocarpus opulifolius “Little Joker” — nine bark
• Pycnanthemum incanum — mountain mint
• Rudbeckia fulgida var fulgida — black-eyed Susan
• Schizachyrium scoparium — little bluestem
• Solidago — goldenrod
• Symphyotrichum laeve — smooth blue aster
• Symphyotrichum novae-angliae — New England aster
• Symphyotrichum oblongifolium — aromatic aster
• Viburnum nudum “Brandywine” — possumhaw viburnum
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