Saturday, February 10, 2018

An Appreciation of Muhly Grass

Muhly grass makes a nice border planting.
It's attractive even when it's not in full bloom.
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia spp.) is one of the most popular native grasses in Florida and other places in the Southeastern US and you can see why. Its gorgeous pink flowers in late fall certainly stand out in the landscape. It's also known as sweetgrass, which has been used for coiled basketry, particularly in the "low country" of South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida, by people of the Gullah Culture.

It likes dry soil in full sun or partial sun. It can be trimmed back in the late winter if there is a real need for neatness, but it's not necessary, because it tends to itself with new growth totally covering the old stalks.

It's most widely sold as just Mulenbergia capillaris, but there are actually three varieties of this species.
The range of all the native muhlys
M. capillaris var. capillaris or  hairawn muhly
M. capillaris var. filipes or gulf hairawn muhly
M. capillaris var. trichopodes or cutover muhly

The other species native to Florida is M. schreberi or nimblewill muhly.

Any of these are good choices for your landscape, but if you have a choice, choose one with its native range surrounding your location. See the Mulenbergia genus page on The Florida Plant Atlas to see the various ranges, but all the species and varieties pretty much cover the state.

Muhlenbergia was named after one of the first early-American scientists, Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg (1753-1815). He became interested in botany while hiding from British soldiers during the Revolutionary war.

Multiply by dividing

I needed to move a big clump of muhly grass that was getting too close to a Yucca plant as both the yucca and the grass had expanded. So it was time to multiply by dividing.

After digging out the whole bunch of grass, I grabbed sections of the plant and gently pulled them from the bunch. You could separate them down to single plants, but I planted these bunches so they'd make a bigger impact in the landscape sooner. 

Spread the roots out as far as possible in the planting hole.
 Don't plant them too deep, but place the root junction
just below the soil level.
When planting the new clumps of muhly grass, it's best to clear the area and then scrape out a shallow but wide planting hole, so you can spread the roots out in every direction. Cover the roots with soil and pat down so the grass is stable. Add about an inch of mulch on top  of the soil. Irrigate liberally after planting and for the next several days. Then gradually cut back on the watering over the next few weeks.

The grass may flop over since it was use to being in a larger bunch, but as long as it's vertical at its base, it should be fine and as new shoots grow, they will have the necessary stiffness to stand up on their own.

Newly planted grass bunches. Note: that I alternated them so they'd not be in a straight line.
A fence used to run along this side of this bed, but now that it's gone, having more muhly grass along this street-side edge will give a more finished look. You may recognize this bed from a previous post "When you plant a tree, you believe in tomorrow." I'd planted a red maple at the end of this peninsular bed out into the lawn to provide a better anchor--again since the fence is gone, the bed needed more of a reason to be here.

Muhly grass gallery

Muhly grass and rice-button asters (Symphyotrichum dumosum) bloom at the same time in the fall. While I'd planted the grass, the asters planted themselves.

The troublesome areas next to and under fences is solved beautifully by muhly grass.

The emergence of the pink inflorescences is always entrancing

Pink haze!

I hope you have or will plan to have more muhly grass in your landscape.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt


  1. I am sad to see that muhly is not vouchered where I live in Orange County. Do you have an opinion about it's use in an area where it is not vouchered?

  2. What does that mean. . "Not vouchered".

    1. Botanists collect and press plants noting where they were collected from. These specimens are stored in herbaria and are used to determine the native ranges of plants. If a plant is not vouchered, that means that no one has made an official record in a herbarium saying that the plant grows in wild or untended areas in that county.