Foliage Follow-Up, November 2014: The Non-Freeze

My gardens are slowing down in preparation for winter, but haven’t experience the frosty nip that was promised earlier in the week. Thank goodness!  I’m not quite ready to give in to the dark season.  Not Just Yet.

Focusing on mid-November foliage, I’m joining with Pam at Digging for Foliage Follow-Up.

In one corner of my garden with dappled light most of the day and some direct sun off and on, are a couple of favorite foliage vignettes.  One such is of Iris straps, Blue MistflowerConoclinium coelestinum,  and cobalt-blue containerized succulent Ghost Plant, Graptopetalum paraguayense.

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Planted alongside that mix are several  Dianella or Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’. IMGP1865.new

I love the wide, grass-like foliage of Dianella with its snazzy white stripes down the sides.IMGP2017.new

When a freeze was predicted this week, I covered the Dianella, though my concerns were unwarranted.  Last winter, I covered all of my Dianella each time the temperature sank into the ’20s, especially for extended periods. They soldiered through winter like the garden champs they are and thrived in our long, hot summer. Dianella nicely combine with Iris and Soft-leaf Yucca straps,IMGP1864.new

…as well as with these snuggly Love-Critters.

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Ghost Plant is unkillable:  it goes for months without water, isn’t fazed by freezes (or at least mine haven’t been), can re-grow if a stem is broken.

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My kinda plant.

Maiden GrassMiscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ is in its glory now.IMGP1868.new

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The beautiful seed heads reflect the sun as it briefly peeked through our mostly cloudy week.

Toasty-seeded Inland Sea OatsChasmanthium latifolium and the green swath of Cast Iron Plant,  Aspidistra elatior are a striking pair.

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Added to this scene is Purple HeartSetcreasea pallida, which dramatizes that story a bit.

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Big MuhlyMuhlenbergia lindheimeri and Soft-leaf YuccaYucca recurvifolia  are cool weather troopers.IMGP2399.new

Graceful while also lending structure to the garden, these two are beautiful companions throughout the year, hot or cold.

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I took this photo of  evergreen Yarrow, Achillea millefolium and Chile Pequin, Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum,  just before what was supposed to be a freezing night.  I figured the fruits wouldn’t survive the plunging temperatures and wanted to record them for posterity.IMGP2529.new

I’m happy to report that the fruits are still available for dining by interested birds.

I love the twisty-curvy foliage of Corkscrew RushJuncus effusus spiralis, silhouetted over a pair of Mexican FeathergrassNassella tenuissima.

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Finally, the leaf change is beginning on my Red Oak, Quercus coccinea.

IMGP2641.new Here in Central Texas, our tree foliage color change occurs later than that of our northern kin, but beautiful and appropriate for our climate and region. There will be more of this in the weeks to come.

Digging hosts Foliage Follow-Up–drop in for a look at November foliage fanfare.

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!

 

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.

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

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

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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.

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Ready for new growth!

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

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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?

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

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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.

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I’ve pruned for the new growth,

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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.

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

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And now it’s ready for new spring growth!

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

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or in groups.

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

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You will not get this in the spring.

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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.

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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.

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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!