Pink clouds hovering close to the ground late on a fall afternoon: It could be a sunset, or it could be a bank of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). This lovely grass, native to southern and eastern regions of the United States, turns heads when it explodes into bloom in late summer and fall. As the rest of the garden is going to sleep, wiry clumps of dark green leaves send up spikes of tiny rose-pink flowers. Several plants blooming together make a spectacular sight. And muhly grass is as tough as it is pretty. You’ll find its pink clouds on poor soils and slopes, and in heat and drought.
Common name: Muhly grass, pink muhlygrass, Gulf muhly, hair awn
Botanical name: Muhlenbergia capillaris
Plant type: Perennial grass
Zones: 6 to 10
Height: 2 to 4 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Sandy, rocky, well-drained soil; tolerates poor soil.
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Cut down last year’s stalks in late winter.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or division
Pests and diseases
• Typically not affected by pests and diseases.
• Muhly grass is beautiful when its airy blooms are backlit by the sun, so keep this in mind when you decide where to plant it.
• This grass doesn’t spread by rhizomes, and it’s not considered aggressive. In fact, it is endangered in some areas.
• Use muhly grass as a ground cover on slopes or hills. Once established, it requires little maintenance.
• Deer tend to leave muhly grass alone, but rabbits may make a meal of it.
• ‘White Cloud’ is slightly taller than the species and has white flowers.
• The flowers of ‘Pink Flamingos’ are lighter pink than the species.
• ‘Regal Mist’ offers color similar to the species and possibly more tolerance for coastal conditions.
All in the family
• The Poaceae, or grass family, provides some of our most important food crops, including rice, wheat, oats, barley, and corn.
• There are more than 100 species in the genus Muhlenbergia, most of which are native to the Americas.
Where to buy
• Dove Creek Gardens, Millington, TN, 901-829-2306, www.dovecreekgardens.com.
• High Country Gardens, Santa Fe, NM, 800-925-9387, www.highcountrygardens.com. Sells M. capillaris ‘Regal Mist’, Zones 7 to 10.
• Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC, 919-772-4794, www.plantdelights.com.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Muhlenbergia capillaris courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)