A Gander at Grasses

The last bastion of prunable perennials in my gardens are the ornamental grasses. I’ve noticed in Austin that many landscape companies prune ornamental grasses earlier in winter, but the little nubs of grass left are unattractive–they remind me of alien pods. (Not that I’ve seen many alien pods.)  Grasses don’t flush with new growth until late February or early March and winter-tinged grasses are lovely specimens.  During winter dormancy, ornamental grasses develop a toasty color and the graceful forms lend elegance and interest to any landscape.

I’m especially fond of the native Big Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindeimeri). These larger grasses move gracefully in winter winds.


Though, I guess I could have raked the leaves from this one in the back garden.


Once I detect discernible green shoots emerging, that’s when I prune.


I prune to a ball/oval shape, but I’ve also seen these grasses pruned flush to the ground.  I’ve even seen them pruned as boxes, though that doesn’t appeal to me and the natural form of the mature plant is round, so pruning as a square is weird and antithetical to the form of the plant.



Ready for new growth!

This non-native (to Texas) Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis),


has been a fine addition to my gardens–I wish I had space for more of them.  It’s been a great performer all year, but who could prune these fabulous seed heads early in the winter?



But, it’s time for spring growth, so off with their heads!


I transplanted my three Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in November.  I don’t have a great spot for these grasses because my gardens are full-sun challenged and Gulf Muhly perform best in blasting sun.


I’ve pruned for the new growth,


and have hopes that this spot will provide the correct amount of sun for these native beauties.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is  native to New Mexico/Arizona and is an airy, light green grass during the growing season.  During winter dormancy, the foliage is tawny beige, though it holds its feathery plumage. When completely dormant, Bamboo Muhly  benefits from shearing to its clump.

In my gardens, two of the Bamboo Muhly didn’t become completely dormant,  so I decided to selectively prune only the cold damaged foliage.



However, one plant had no green growth, so I sheared it to the ground.


And now it’s ready for new spring growth!


Mexican Feathergrass (Nasella tenuisima) is beautiful year round as a single specimen,


or in groups.



It is NOT however, a plant pruned by shearing foliage like the four discussed above. If you do this in the winter:


You will not get this in the spring.


NO. NO. NO. Never, ever do that!! It will take MONTHS to recover and will look stupid in the interim.  I sacrificed a seedling to demonstrate this abhorrence, but I see this all over Austin.

The method for “pruning” Mexican Feathergrass is to gently pull off the dead foliage which by late winter is a light brown/tan color.


Hold down the center of the plant and gently tug the dead grass or run your fingers through the foliage, in small bits, until it pulls free of the main plant.  It will come out easily and if it doesn’t, don’t force it. I’m not coordinated enough to photograph that action, but you’ll end with a handful of grass pulled out.


As you’re pulling out the dead foliage, hold the mother plant down with the other hand, otherwise, especially in older plants, you’ll pull the up the entire plant.  Which I’ve done.  Numerous times. If that happens, swear a little, (you’ll feel better), then re-plant a new seedling and start over again.

For me, pruning ornamental grasses means the end of winter and is the gateway to spring abundance and a long growing season.

It’s done.  Happy Spring!

Native Texas Plant Week and Foliage Follow-Up–October 2012

Joining Pam at Digging for Foliage Follow-Up and celebrating Native Texas Plant Week, I’ll focus on some of the lovely Texas plants currently wowing with interesting foliage in my garden.

Or, as in the case of the Big Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), showing off its slender foliage and its magnificent inflorescence.  Fall has arrived with the plumes of native grasses entering their full glory.  Sigh.  So beautiful.

This Silver Ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) augments the brighter green and blooming perennials around it.

Its creeping habit is graceful as it spills over edges and rocks.

Most people in Texas would consider this plant, Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis),

an obnoxious weed.  I’ve found many of these hardy, drought tolerant plants insinuating themselves in cracks between stepping-stones or at the base of raised beds.  I had so many individual mats that I decided to plant as many as possible in a sitting area that was once grass, but has been a mulched area for about ten years.

I planted the left side after some heavy rains last May and the right side, after rains  during the summer. The Horseherb has filled in remarkably well.  Scarily so. I hope I don’t regret have this tough plant so close to a more formal garden.  I’ll need to keep it tidy with a line trimmer, but the area is almost completely shaded, so it won’t need extra water and Horseherb can handle moderate foot traffic.

Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is sporting its tawny seeds for fall.

Although the pretty yellow blooms of the Lindheimer’s Senna (Senna lindheimeriana) are all but gone and the seeds are ripening for the birds, I still love the beautiful soft grey-green foliage of this native perennial.

Lindheimer’s Senna is especially nice paired with the bright green, more tropical looking leaves of the ‘Esparanza’ Yellow Bells (Tacoma stans).

The always elegant Mexican Feathergrass  (Nasella tenuissima), softens gardens with its thread-like shimmery green to golden brown leaves.

Years ago, someone shared their White Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) with me.  Yarrow is a favorite of mine because of its beauty and durability.  Best in shade, it grows well in even the driest of summers; its blooms are long-lasting.  By this time of year, I’ve pruned the flower stalks, but the leaves remain lush.

This Retama is about seven years old.  It’s grown tall and has yellow flowers all summer.  The bloom cycle is toward its end, but the delicate, feathery leaves are fetching.

Be STILL my beating heart!  I love Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

I love it!  Although my little Muhly is no rival for some of the beauties of this species that I see around Austin, I’m still thrilled that I have some plumage.  Someday, little Muhly, someday!

Glory in both blooms and foliage! And if you live in Texas, happy Native Plants Week!  Wherever you live, try native plants for your garden. For more information about North American native plants, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site.

Waiting For Muhly

How many Octobers have I waited, in hopes, to see if the Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in my gardens  will show off the beautiful and graceful seed heads that arise from the grass, gossamer and veil-like?  How many Octobers waiting to see if my Gulf Muhly would look like those  that I see in commercial landscapes or others’ (Growing Optimism) personal gardens?    How many times have I transplanted my Gulf Muhly in the spring, after disappointing no-show plumes, only to wait a year or more to see if this spot in the garden is the right spot.  I can’t say.

Finally, I think I have the right (two) spots.  Yipee!!!

I love Gulf Muhly.  When I see this beautiful grass in October, it takes my breath away.  The color (a pinkish-purple) is lovely, rich and unusual and the “bloom,” which are actually tiny seeds borne on very thin spikes, is feathery and soft.  It’s a sensual plant.  As a single plant, it’s lovely.  Planted in mass?  Stunning!  Mostly, I’ve admired Gulf Muhly from afar, because I  have too much shade/part shade on my property and I’ve opted for longer blooming plants in the few areas which receive full sun.  Gulf Muhly is best in full sun and requires a bit more water than many of the plants that I grow.

My landscape has changed in the last couple of years, so last year (fall 2010),  I moved two in a back area which receives the blasting sun in the summer.

Originally, I had three, but lost one over the Summer From Hell.  The other two are doing well and in just the last two days, put on their fabulous bloom spikes.

I know, you can barely see the signature pink-purple seed heads–they look spindly compared with  other Gulf Muhly around Austin, but I’m tickled to have anything.  It will take another 2-3 years to reach maturity and real be show-stoppers.   But finally, I’ll  have a nice display of this beautiful plant in the back of my garden.

I also moved this one at about the same time last year.

Wow!  Enough plumage to achieve a back-lit effect from the west sun!  I can die now.

The little spikes to the left are another Gulf Muhly that I moved two weeks ago.  It’ll be next year before I see anything from this plant.  But in 2 or 3 years?  Oh, I can’t wait!

Most of the year, Gulf Muhly is an attractive grass–light green and full.  Generally, it’s a tough plant, with higher water needs than some of the other native grasses.  In October (or so), those magnificent spikes appear and it’s unrivaled in beauty.  It sways in the breeze and when the sun is behind the plant, it glows.  As the seeds develop, the seed heads turn a soft light brown.  Still lovely.  After the first hard freeze, the plant is dormant until spring.
This Gulf Muhly lover lives for the October show.

And the wait is worth it.