Autumn Natives

I live in a region with nearly year-round gardening. Summer is hot–that’s a given–and winter is chilly, punctuated by hard freezes–sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. Spring and autumn are delightful, even when spring ends earlier than I’d like and autumn arrives way after it’s due. These pleasant months are the best times to be outdoors and in the garden; I’d suspect that many Texas native plants agree.

Perennials in the Asteraceae family are common, but well-worth having. These cheerful Fall aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, bloom for 2-3 weeks and I always look forward to their lavender display.

I like Fall aster even when it doesn’t bloom, but how can you not grin when you see these charmers?

This combination of blooming perennials and shrubs provides interest for the gardener and food and cover for birds and insects. The background shrub is Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra. Its subtle pink blooms are barely visible in the photo, outshined by its more colorful companion blooms. White blooms atop the leggy stalks of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and the red hibiscus-like flowers of Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreous are worthy competitors for attention to the lemony-yellow daisies of Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

More Goldeneye to brighten your day.

It’s not just flowers that add to autumn’s beauty, but native grasses are at their peak during this time. My garden is a shady one and I only have a few spots of truly full sun and therefore, limited room for the stunning native grasses that grow well here in Central Texas. Native grasses need the blast of the Texas sun to shine! But this Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, sits in one of those sunny places. It’s a gorgeous plant–even in winter–but in autumn, its fluffy panicles sway gracefully in the breezes.

The muhly is photobombed by a couple of branches of native Turk’s cap (left and front). The pinks in the background belong to the non-native Coral vine.

Be still my beating heart, I love this plant. I’m now growing several in my front garden (the back is too shady to host these sun lovers). This is the oldest of the bunch and I think by next year, the youngsters will be just as impressive.

A different specimen from the one above.

Another Goldeneye/Frostweed vignette benefits from the addition of Inland sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.

Inland sea oats are excellent grassy perennials for shade. The “oats” are chartreuse in spring, deepening their green during summer, turning tan in autumn. I think that the group in the above photo turns toasty earlier because it receives more sun. This group below, growing in my back garden and in significantly more shade, still retains some of its green highlights; eventually, they’ll all turn to a warm tawny until pruning, just before spring.

Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis, is a less common garden perennial than the others I’ve profiled, though available in some local nurseries. I purchased mine from Barton Springs Nursey years ago and mine have spread somewhat by seed, but I’ve also separated the fleshy roots into new individual plants.

The lovely flowers, alternately posed on tall bloom spikes, are small, orange-yellow and lily-like. Texas craglily is a member of the Liliaceae family.

The base of the plant is grassy, with fleshy foliage and despite its delicate appearance, a tough and drought-tolerant perennial. From its grassy base which appears in late spring and provides lush green throughout summer, the plant sends up bloom stalks in September, blooming until November. An elegant plant, the bloom stalks move with the wind, flowers and seed pods in almost constant motion.

This week marks Texas Native Plant Week, a celebration of the native plants of our regions. Texas is a big place with a wide range of topography and weather patterns, but there’s something for every garden, plants that will please every gardener. Native plants, Texan or otherwise, are must-haves for any garden. They’re easy to grow, they belong where they grow, and they nurture endemic wildlife. In the bigger picture, most regions enjoy a wide palette of gorgeous and valuable native plants: trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, grasses and succulents. No matter where you garden and call home, if you haven’t tried growing natives, give it a whirl! You’ll be amazed at their beauty and ease.

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Promoting Texas Native Plants Week, I’d like to put in a good word for Texas plants known for lovely or interesting foliage.  Foliage is often overlooked when planning a garden and it shouldn’t be; foliage is the bedrock of most winter gardens and sets the tone and backdrop for all blooms.  In my gardens, it seems like plants fall into three foliage categories:  scratchy, spiky, or soft.   I won’t give scratchy plants attention for now (looking at YOU, Lantana and Barbados cherry!), but I will profile a few foliage beauties from the other two categories.

The soil in my gardens is clayey, so I haven’t had much luck with the soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom leaves of the Wooly stemodiaStemodia lanata.  This plant  requires excellent drainage and a good amount of sun.  I am successful with a couple of individuals planted in containers and they’re  thriving.

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This Wooly stemodia gracefully cascades over the cherry-red pot, while its partner, an American century plantAgave americana sits firmly in the pot and the spiky category.  Both plants share a beautiful gray-green coloring, which is a characteristic of foliage of many Texas native plants.

In this photo, spiky dominates the scene with a second and larger American century plant, this time complemented by a deep blue pot that is its home.

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A spiky garden buddy, Pale-leaf yuccaYucca pallida, echos the gray of the agave, though I think the color suggests more blue than the gray-green agave.  The yucca also doesn’t have “teeth” like  the agave, though the ends pointedly exhibit their own danger, especially when the gardener is careless and/or forgets about the needling yucca while pruning or weeding. Ouch!  Truthfully, I’m not a member of the spiky-plant club that so many Austin gardeners belong to.  However, native yuccas and agaves provide low-maintenance beauty and structure and every Texas garden should showcase at least one.

The softer plants in the photo–Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, and Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, all exhibit larger, “tropical” leaves, and are typically considered shade-dwellers, although all three thrive in full-to-part sun.  The Zexmenia, Wedelia texana,  has small, hairy leaves, which are an adaptation with allows the leaves to absorb atmospheric moisture.  The Zexmenia is an extremely drought-tolerant perennial.

Another spiky native is this Twistleaf yuccaYucca rupicola, here haloed by blooming Zexmenia.

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A true green,  the Twistleaf yucca, like its cousin,  the Pale-leaf yucca, bloom in the spring and sometimes, later in autumn.  Four foot blooms stalks  topped with clusters of fragrant, creamy flowers, provide for many interested pollinators. For the most of the year, handsome foliage dominates.

More gray-green in the landscape comes from Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri. 

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RICOH IMAGING

A yearling Big muhly fronts a crown of blooming White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

I’ve struggled to find a good spot for the three specimens in my garden as they love full, blasting Texas sun and my garden is hampered by shade.

Really, I’m complaining about shade?  In Texas?

Big muhly is an elegant native grass.  I’ve contented myself with appreciating those that grow in other gardens (or in open spaces).  I’m crossing-fingers that the few in my garden will prosper–I believe I finally have good spots for each.

I am successful with this far West Texas native, Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuissima.

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These grasses are gorgeous in containers and planted in the ground, as well as happy in sun or shade–a win for the garden!  Stunning in the spring with  frothy, silvery-green foliage, they evolve into a toastier autumn presence as the growing season advances.

Texas beargrass, Nolina texana, is one more “grass” that is beautiful in a pot or directly in the garden.

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This slow-grower is in the Liliaceae family and works well as an ornamental grass. Evergreen with a draping habit, it makes a statement, especially when planted in groups of two or three. This is another plant which flourishes when planted in containers.

Native Texas Plant Week is winding down, but the use of native plants in commercial and home gardens is on the upswing, not only in Texas but in many other places.  Now is a good time here in Texas to plant trees and perennials and to plan for next year.  Whether you live in Texas, or not–go native!  Native plants are easy and special because they belong in and to the unique place you call home.

Whatever foliage you grow, please check out Christina’s lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day.  See interesting foliage from many gardens and from many places, and then share your own leafy loveliness.

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!