Growing Muhly Grass

Add a touch of magic to the fall garden with this perennial wonder.
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Muhlenbergia capillaris

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Photo by: Photo bby Danny Flanders

Photo bby Danny Flanders

Muhly Grass explodes in early fall with a profusion of cotton candy-like plumes.

It’s not often that you hear terms like “magical” and “ethereal” used to describe a plant. But mention muhly grass, and those terms immediately come to mind.

Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, is one of those late-season treats that wows us just when we think the garden has produced its last hurrah. In late summer and early fall, this perennial grass sends up masses of airy, loosely branched inflorescences, or flowers, that are so finely textured the effect is a pinkish-purple cloud floating over the bed. These tall, cotton-candy pink puffballs last throughout fall, fading in winter. 

In addition to its unique beauty, muhly grass offers the distinct advantage of being one tough plant. Hardy in zones 5 to 9, it’s found from prairies to woodlands, from Florida to New England. The perennial prefers full sun but still performs well in part shade. It’s best grown in sandy or rocky soil but will tolerate most soil types so long as it’s well drained. Extremely heat and drought tolerant, this grass doesn’t interest deer, though the birds love it. 

Muhly grass is best planted in spring, and throughout the summer the plant takes its dramatic shape. Its dark green leaves and stems form a clump that extends symmetrically about two to three feet in diameter. Also known as pink hair grass, the plant grows equally as tall, making it a nice addition to a perennial border or even a hedge when planted in mass.  

One type of muhly grass, the cultivar known as ‘Pink Flamingos’, is considered a hybrid of M. capillaris and M. lindheimeri and grows taller and wider that traditional muhly grass. Its billowy plumes are spear-shaped for even more dramatic effect when in bloom.

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