LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Ornamental grasses are some of the best plant selections for an ornamental focus for the landscape, but they are often underutilized. In addition to being an excellent choice for their aesthetic appeal, ornamental grasses are great for wildlife, especially birds. Perhaps my favorite feature of ornamental grasses is the texture it brings to the garden.
You may be asking yourself — what exactly is texture when it comes to landscapes? As a horticulturist, I’m trained in the cultivation of plants — not so much on the design of landscapes. However, I do have an appreciation of design concepts and a desire to use plants that not only grow and thrive in Louisiana, but that will also help make the landscape functional, beautiful and more of an outdoor living space.
Landscapes can be designed with wildlife in mind. Or perhaps you want an entertainment space, a quiet sitting area or a play area for children. When you are planning your landscape, it’s important to think of the types of plants you are drawn to. But you also must plan for the needs of the plants and consider what purpose they will serve in your garden.
Texture is one of the design elements that does not come from the physical feel of the plant as you might expect. Rather, it is an eye-catching element that interacts with the light and shadows of specific spaces in the landscape.
One way to achieve texture is by combining fine foliage with heavily textured or coarse foliage. Grasses can help fit the fine-textured bill. They typically have an airy, feathery, soft look.
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) can add texture and flair to your landscape with its feathery pink inflorescences, or flowers, during fall. The LSU AgCenter thinks so much about this ornamental grass that it has been named a Louisiana Super Plant for fall 2021. Muhly is a native grass to North America found in Florida and the eastern half of the United States.
It grows well in full sun to partial shade with an average height of 3 to 4 feet tall by the same width, growing best in well-drained soils. The growth habit is clumping. Flowers are typically pink, but white varieties are also available. The long grass blades and wispy flower plumes give it a fine texture.
Planted en masse at a spacing of 2 feet, muhly grass can be very eye-catching in the landscape. The grass is extremely low maintenance and well adapted to Louisiana. It is very drought tolerant once established. Plants will go dormant in winter and turn brown. Leave the dormant grass to serve as a winter habitat for birds. Speaking of birds, they love the seeds from the flowers, so these grasses provide year-round interest for wildlife.
It’s a good idea to trim dead blades in late winter or early spring before new blades of grass emerge. You also may choose to fertilize with a general all-purpose fertilizer at the recommended rates in springtime. Muhly grass does not have many, if any, pest or disease problems.
As plants grow over the years, they will multiply and make additional clumps. Those can be divided in fall or early spring by simply digging up a few clumps that you can then share with friends or move to new areas. Overcrowding of the grasses can decrease the number of flowers, so dividing every three or so years will help keep them healthy and vigorous.
The grass may not always be greener on the other side, but as Walt Whitman once said, “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” Add some texture and beauty to your landscape with muhly grass, a Louisiana Super Plant for fall 2021.
Pink muhly grass. LSU AgCenter file photo by Allen Owings
Muhly grass commonly has pink flowers, but white varieties also are available. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Dormant grasses provide important wildlife habitats in winter. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter