Big Muhly, Lindheimer’s Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri): A Seasonal Look

This is the second post as part of the new and continuing series, A Seasonal Look. Today we’ll look at Lindheimer’s (Big) Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri .

Be still my beating heart!  THAT is a beautiful plant!

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The slender, graceful foliage in spring and summer and the fall/winter inflorescence of the Lindheimer’s or Big Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, is eye-catching and always makes my heart skip a beat. My oh my!

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Lindheimer’s Muhly is one of my favorite plants. (I know. I say that all the time.)  I think it’s stunning year-round and a desirable garden addition–from its early spring-green strands of foliage growth,

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through summer,

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to the zenith of its beauty in fall.

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Lindheimer’s Muhly is a native Texas grass.  Endemic to Central Texas, it’s become a popular landscape plant for home and commercial gardens.  L. Muhly is excellent in full sun and requires little water once established.  It is a lovely ornamental grass and regionally appropriate for our gardens.  Lindheimer’s Muhly is  gorgeous when planted in pairs or groups,

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or as a single specimen.

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It’s a plant which adds structure, foliage interest and grace to any garden, whether in a mixed perennial bed or a desert-themed garden.

In most locally owned nurseries here in Central Texas, L. Muhly is available in four-inch, gallon and larger containers–depending upon the store and time of year. Lindheimer’s Muhly is an easy plant for the most neglectful gardener. The only maintenance is pruning the grass in late winter, preferably in February. Other than that, this plant requires little care.   One other chore the gardener might undertake is to rake fallen leaves out of the grass after autumn leaf fall.

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Personally, I don’t bother.  But if you find fallen leaves tangled in the grass unattractive, it won’t hurt your Muhly to rake them out.  Go for it!

As for pruning Lindheimer’s Muhly, all that’s required is pruning straight across in a “buzz” cut or pruning into a rounded shape.  You can use hand pruners or larger lopping pruners.  I have an old, electric pruner and I simply let’r rip–it takes about 30 seconds for me to prune a mature plant.  That’s it!

Here are some examples of L. Muhly after winter “hair” cuts.

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An advantage of pruning in late February versus early January ( well after the typical first hard freeze renders the plant dormant), is that pruning in February  results in only days or weeks before new growth begins.  A week or two after pruning, the new spring growth visibly arches up and over the pruned portion of the grass.
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Also, it’s a good idea to plant L. Muhly with early to mid spring blooming perennials or native annual spring wildflowers.  I’ve planted mine with Heartleaf Skullcap, Purple Coneflower and iris as neighboring companion plants.  As the Muhly is growing from its winter prune, the blooming annuals and perennials can flower with abandon and strut their stuff.  Later in summer and fall, when the Muhly is in its full glory,  the earlier spring bloomers have exited center stage–either by complete dormancy (like Heartleaf Skullcap) or reverting to a less showy, non-blooming state.

It’s not necessary to prune Muhly–after all, in the wild they aren’t pruned.  I experimented a couple of years ago with one of my Muhly grasses and didn’t prune in late winter.  Here it is in spring:

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and in the early summer:

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I eventually selectively pruned the dead foliage out of the plant because I preferred the newer green growth to dominate and considering that my Muhlies are in a cultivated garden, it’s appropriate to “neaten” them with a late winter trim. Pruning isn’t necessary for the health of the plant–pruning is for aesthetics only.

Lindheimer’s Muhly is deer resistant  and will get two to five feet tall and about three feet wide. L. Muhly prefers full sun, though it can take some shade. It can also grow in a variety of soil types, though as it’s native to the Edwards Plateau eco-region, it prefers a rockier soil. The two original Muhly plants in my gardens succumbed to increasing shade, plus the soil in my garden is somewhat heavy.  My property lies along a junction of the Edwards Plateau and the Blackland Prairie eco-regions and is the heavier Blackland Prairie soil.   The combination of increasing shade and clay soil is not ideal for L. Muhly.  Last year, one Muhly rotted out completely and the other was well on its way.   I removed both, but added two more L. Muhlies to the garden.

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I replaced the two rotted Muhlies with new, one gallon-sized plants in fall 2013. Seedlings and newly purchased specimens  are easy to plant–just water for the first few weeks, then back off of the irrigation.  Mature L. Muhly require minimal irrigation. I water one or twice per month during the summer months.  Also, I don’t mulch my Muhlies thickly–a thin covering is fine.

The replacement Muhly grasses receive more sun than the originals–they should be happier.

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Try Lindheimer’s (Big) Muhly in your garden.  It’s hard to find a plant that requires less maintenance than this magnificent ornamental native grass.

In spring,

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summer,

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fall,

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and winter,

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you’ll be happy with your choice!

 

Foliage Follow-up, April 2014

Spring has definitely sprung here in Austin and though blooms may be foremost for most garden lovers, foliage loveliness deserves a shout-out.   Here are my foliage favorites for April.

The summer and fall blooming Gregg’s Mistflower (Conoclinium greggiisports deeply lobed foliage, giving rise to one of the common names for this hardy ground cover, Palmleaf Mistflower.

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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has beautiful foliage year-round.  It’s delicate, fern-like and spreads well (sometimes too well).  Yarrow is evergreen, hardy and drought tolerant.

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It brightens this shady spot.

A perennial favorite of mine and one I’ve profiled before, Mexican Feathergrass (Nassella tenuisima) is at the zenith of beauty in the spring.

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The lone green Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)  in my back gardens apparently wasn’t decimated by butterfly larva last year.

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With soft, graceful foliage, it’s a wonderful addition to the mixed perennial garden.

Globe Mallow (Spaeralcea ambigua)  is such a show-stopper with its combination of orange blooms and arresting, pale gray-green, fuzzy leaves.

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I like this combination of  Pale-leaf Yucca (Yucca pallida), Heartleaf Skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) and the bright green Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).

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The Pale-leaf Yucca appears blue against the backdrop of the greener Skullcap ground cover  and the Autumn Sage’s is a bright green punctuation situated further in that same ground cover.

The Wild Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) not only has beautiful blooms in spring, but interesting foliage year-round.

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New growth from a young American Smoke Tree (Cotinus obovatus), promises more beauty as it matures.

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Lastly, I can’t resist the photo of the Scarlet Tanager, Piranga olivacea, who has visited my garden this past week as he rests on the green branch of Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata).  Plumage and foliage–you can’t beat that!

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Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-up for April.

 

Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra): A Seasonal Look

Often in  gardening literature, photographs and accompanying  text illustrate a plant at its best–its appearance  in full bloom or berry or whatever qualities the profiled plant exhibits at its peak during the growing season.  New gardeners and specifically new gardeners to Austin and Central Texas often have no clue what the plant they just purchased will be doing during the course of the year, other than what the gardener wanted it for; what the plant looks like when not  blooming, berrying and anything in between. One of the common search terms that appear in my blog statistics is asking just this sort of question:  What will the So-And-So plant look like when it’s not blooming?  What does Blippity-Blop plant look like during the winter?  When do I prune Hoody-Doo plant?    Is This Thing dormant or dead?

I’ve gardened in Austin long enough to observe how common landscape perennials and grasses perform throughout the year.  From time-to-time, I’ll be selecting plants and inviting the reader to observe seasonal changes these plants undergo.  Please note that these posts reflect my experiences only, here in sunny Austin, Texas.

Notice the new menu heading which will categorize these posts: A Seasonal Look.

The debut for this seasonal look-see is Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra).  I love Barbados Cherry, but even I don’t think it’s a particularly sexy, exciting plant.  It’s rather a staple of sorts: the practical “nursing shoe” of plants versus its sexier “stiletto heel” exhibitionist kin.  Barbados Cherry is tough, reliable and in its steady way, beautiful.  Gardeners utilize it as a hedge, but it also produces a mass of blooms, at least a couple of times per year, with lush berries following.  It is extremely drought tolerant, growing well in shade, part shade and full sun.  Barbados Cherry is an excellent wildlife plant.  It develops into a thick shrub/thicket, so birds love it for protection and is a host/nectar plant for several butterflies.  For all that acclaim, Barbados Cherry is not a particularly fast grower and is not deer resistant.

Most of the year, Barbados Cherry presents as a green shrub, though individual plants can be shaped as a sphere or in  tree form.  I don’t care for overly pruned plants, preferring more natural growth patterns.  I’ve only pruned my B. Cherry to prevent overhanging the driveway too much. I planted my original five shrubs about 20 years ago, in a shade/part shade area, primarily as a privacy hedge.  Once established, B. Cherry like this most of the year.

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A disclaimer:  these photos were taken in autumn, but Barbados Cherry are green, rear-round, with some exceptions, noted later.

The photos illustrate a plant, while not heart-stopping, is green, lush and tough.  In the course of its life, my hedge of Barbados Cherry withstood bicycles, basketballs, soccer balls and all manner of kid destruction while demanding nothing from me,  serving its purpose well.

In spring and fall, reliably after rain, the Barbados Cherry will explode with ruffly clusters of pink, dainty flowers.

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My experience is that the bloom cycle lasts up to about six weeks, once in the spring/early summer and then again in the fall.

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During the bloom cycle, berries like this beauty develop.

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Barbados Cherry is especially stunning when there are blooms and berries at the same time which typically occurs during both bloom cycles..

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Many birds, but especially mockingbirds, favor the berries.  The berries are sweet, though a little seedy for my taste.

Depending upon the winter, Barbados Cherry exhibits differing responses.  To about 30 degrees for short periods of time, Barbados Cherry remains evergreen.  If temperatures remain in the low 30s for long periods or dip into the 20s, for more than 12-15 hours, some of the upper limbs will defoliate, though in a thick bramble, the rest will likely stay green.

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Not much green here, because of the freeze events of the 2013-14 winter.  Still, this group (different from the one in the photos above) isn’t completely frozen to the ground because it’s in a protected area. The branches will flush out with new growth once temperatures warm. There’s no need to prune further than where you can scratch the surface to find some green. In this photo, it’s just below the copyright.

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Because winter was colder than in the last 2 decades and the original, exposed stand of Barbados Cherry experienced a number of freezes well into the mid 20s, they froze completely to the ground.

I knew they were goners when I saw the trunks of the shrubs.

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By early March, I’d cut all of the original stand of Barbados Cherry to the ground.

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So much for my privacy hedge!  Now, to wait until new growth from the roots. Finally, in late March, signs of life!!

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As of the end of March 2014, these individual plants are recovering slowly from the hard freezes of this past winter.

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In fact, B. Cherry is at its northern range in Austin.  According to the Native Plant Database of the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Center, B. Cherry are native to South Texas, Mexico and into Central and South America.  So it is a tropical plant and not reliably evergreen in Austin.  I knew that when I planted, but was lulled to complacency by the abnormally mild winters we’ve experienced since the mid-to-late 1990s.   As of March 31, 2014 all of the Barbados Cherry are sprouting green from the trunks.  I’ll definitely keep them, but because the light requirements have changed for this garden, I am augmenting the garden by planting other native plants and will prune the B. Cherry more regularly.  This garden will no longer be a mono-culture hedge, but a more diverse native garden.