Grasses, Berries, Groundcovers: Autumn Images

Cooler temperatures and regular rainfall herald autumn in Central Texas–and we all breathe a sigh of relief that the broil of summer has passed. Perennials awake from their summer siesta, ushering in a second spring of blooms. From September until first frost, there are easily as many blooming beauties, especially of the native kind, as in spring.

Our native grasses, soft and elegant throughout the summer, acquire a warmth of color and rock dramatic plumage in autumn, challenging the beauty of accompanying blooms.

Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) graces a combo of Plateau goldeneye and Turkscap.

I’ve had mixed results with Big muhly, as my front garden has historically been too shady for this sun worshipper, while my back garden offered only a few spots of sun, coupled with heavier soil, so muhlies were typically short-lived.  With more opportunity for the sun to blast my front garden, the four Texas native Big muhlies planted have found a home.

The same muhly at a different angle.


Common yarrow, Achillea millefolium,  is a native North American plant which grows throughout the continent.

A beautiful ground cover for most of the year–especially in winter–yarrow blooms white clusters atop 2-3 foot stems in June and July, the florets turning toasty in August.  Mine haven’t bloomed particularly well in the last 2 years, but I don’t mind, since it’s the lacy foliage that I prize.

For wildlife, autumn provides a boon of berries, and Texas native plants oblige in spades.  Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis,  is a favorite of birds, especially–you guessed it–of pigeons and doves.

Leaves are ruffly and bright green, complementing both the tiny pink-to-white blooms and the cherry-red berries.   Once a light freeze happens, the foliage will blush burgundy, until a hard freeze renders this small ground cover dormant until late spring.

For now, the leaves remain a cheery green.


Another native plant, the deciduous herb, Chili pequinCapsicum annuum,  provides fruits for birds and mammals.  Birds are frequent visitors, so much so that another common name for this plant is Bird pepper.  Texas’ only true native chili pepper, the fruits are hot, but birds (and husbands) love the taste.

Red berries, ripe for picking.

The leaves are small and dainty, and the form of the shrub, elegant.    I love them planted as a mass, with 3 or 4 together.

Chili pequin planted with common yarrow.


Mexican FeathergrassNassella tenuissima–for obvious reasons that you can observe, has become a popular landscape plant throughout North America.

This is the spring view of two of the Mexican Feathergrass in my garden.

Native to Texas and New Mexico, southward into Mexico, and with a separate native population in Argentina and Chili, the Mexican Feathergrass is a tough, drought-hardy perennial grass prized by gardeners and easy to grow.

The autumn view of the same two plants. More muted and worn from a full growing season, these two still accent the garden and complement the rocks which border the pond.

I’ve grown Feathergrass in both shade (not deep, but dappled) and sun.   It’s been the native grass that has performed best for me and seems a go-to grass for both home and commercial landscapes in these parts.  It seeds out, not obnoxiously, but just enough that I can transplant and use in different situations.

Thanking Christina of Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for hosting this monthly tribute to foliage; please check out her lovely blog for more fall 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!


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!


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,

through summer,

to the zenith of its beauty in fall.

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,


or as a single specimen.

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.

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.

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.

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:

and in the early summer:

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.


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.

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,




and winter,

you’ll be happy with your choice!