Growing Muhly Grass
As the garden winds down in late summer and fall, pink muhly grass explodes with airy, pink plumes. This perennial grass is beautiful and easy to grow.
Named after a botanist, pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a showstopping ornamental grass that's ideal for late-season color. Also known as gulf muhly, cotton candy grass, pink grass, pink muhly and muhly grass, this North American native has narrow green or grayish leaves and delicate inflorescences, or flower clusters, that create the illusion of a hazy, pinkish cloud.
Pink muhly grass tolerates a wide variety of soils, withstands heat and drought extremely well, and its plumes stay colorful into the fall and early winter.
Choosing Which Pink Muhly Grass To Grow
So-called cotton candy grass is beautiful when grown in masses or as a specimen plant. Pick your favorite and use it to stabilize a slope, screen a view, accent a border or provide a backdrop for shorter plants.
Species, Cultivars and Varieties
There are over 150 species of Muhlenbergia, but only a few are widely available.
Although it’s called pink muhly grass, some types of this ornamental grass have pink to pinkish-red or purplish blooms. One cultivar has white blooms.
‘Pink Flamingo’ is a hybrid of M. lindheimeri (a species of bunchgrass) and M. capillaris (traditional pink muhly grass). Its bright pink flowers arch over its slender, evergreen leaves in fall. The plants grow 4 to 5 feet tall and 15 to 18 inches wide in USDA Zones 6 to 10. It's a good choice for narrow spaces.
‘Undaunted Ruby’ (M. reverchonii) is a pink muhly grass selection that’s native to Texas. Also known as seep muhly grass, it's hardy in Zones 5 to 10. Its feathery, reddish blooms bend gracefully over its needle-like foliage. The plants mature at 15 to 18 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide.
'Regal Mist' (M. capillaris 'Lenca') is a fast-growing, relatively small pink muhly grass with pinkish-red flowers. Hardy in Zones 6 to 10, its airy flowers seem to shimmer in the sun. In bloom, it matures at 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
Discover ornamental grasses that earn their keep and then some. These low-maintenance perennials add movement and multi-season beauty to any yard.
‘Rose Muhly’ (M. reverchonni ) boasts pinkish-red blooms and fine-textured foliage. It's smaller than most pink muhly grasses and its blooms are held more loosely. Hardy in Zones 5 to 10, it can take wetter growing conditions than most mulhies.
‘White Cloud’ is a cultivar of M. capillaris with billowy, creamy-white flowers and finely textured leaves. It grows relatively upright and is recommended for Zones 7 to 10. Without blooms, the plants average 3 to 4 feet tall. With blooms, they reach 4 to 5 feet tall.
‘Bamboo muhly’(M. dumosa) is hardy to Zone 8 and a native of Arizona and southern Mexico. Its grass stalks look like bamboo stems and it has feathery green leaves that sway in breezes. Give it plenty of room in the garden or a large pot; it can grow to 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Its tiny flowers are not showy.
Getting the Planting Site Ready
Work your garden soil six inches deep in a spot that gets full sun to part sun. Remove any rocks or other debris and rake the soil until it’s fine.
Plant muhly grass in the fall, one month before the first expected frost in your area, or in the spring. Space the plants as directed on their tags or labels, or at least a few feet apart to allow for good air circulation and help prevent diseases.
Pink muhly grass can tolerate soil that contains a lot of salt, whether it comes from run-off road salt, irrigation or other sources. It can also tolerate some shade, although the plants tend to flop over and produce few flowers.
Add Organic Matter
Pink muhly grass likes slightly acidic to neutral soils that drain easily. You may want to test your planting site and add soil amendments as indicated, such as compost or other organic matter.
How to Plant Pink Muhly Grass
When Does Pink Muhly Grass Grow Best?
Pink muhly is a warm-season grass, so it grows best when the weather is warm and becomes dormant when the temperatures drop.
Should I Start Pink Muhly Grass Indoors?
You can start the pink muhly grass seeds indoors in a good quality seed starting mix. Press them down but don’t cover them because they need light to germinate. Moisten them and keep them in a warm spot in bright, indirect light. When seedlings emerge and form good roots, transplant them into the garden. Space them 30 to 42 inches apart or as directed on the seed package.
Planting Pink Muhly Grass in the Garden
Wait until all chance of frost has passed in the spring to sow pink muhly grass seeds directly in the garden. If you prefer, sow them in late spring or early summer. In either case, press the seeds into the soil but don’t cover them. Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout in about 10 to 21 days.
For pink muhly grass plants, dig holes two or three times wider than the root balls and no deeper than the height of the root balls. Put the plants in the holes and add water. After the water soaks in, backfill the holes with native soil mixed with some organic matter. Keep the crown of the plants just above the soil line. Water again and keep the soil evenly moist, not soggy, for the first year. Add an inch or two of mulch to help suppress weeds and retain moisture.
You can also plant pink muhly grass in a container large enough for it to grow in for a couple of years. Be sure the pot has drainage holes. When you repot, in two or three years, use fresh potting mix.
Growing and Caring for Pink Muhly Grass
Water as needed to keep the soil moist if rainfall is insufficient. Let the top inch or two of soil dry out before watering again. Muhly grass tolerates drought very well and may not even need watering unless there’s a prolonged dry period. Be careful not to overwater when the plants aren’t actively growing.
Muhly grass doesn’t require fertilizer, although you can feed lightly with organic plant food in early spring if new growth looks weak.
Keep weeds removed so your pink grass won't have to compete for water and nutrients. A layer of mulch will help discourage weeds.
Scout for Health Issues
Few pests or diseases bother gulf muhly, as pink muhly is also known, so it's a very low-maintenance perennial. Even deer tend to leave pink muhly grass alone.
How to Propagate Pink Muhly Grass
This ornamental grass is easy to grow from seed or you can propagate it by division every three years. Simply dig up a clump in early spring and cut the root ball into two or three new clumps, keeping some roots and green foliage on each one. Replant the first clump in its original spot and plant the others as directed above. Pink muhly grass seldom needs pruning but you can remove any dead, brown foliage when you’re dividing.
How to Use Pink Muhly Grass in the Garden
Try this attractive pink grass in borders and containers, around a foundation, as a hedge or screen, along a fence, near trees and shrubs, or in a meadow. Cut the flowers and foliage for fresh or dried arrangements. In fall, pink muhly grass forms small, purplish seeds that attract hungry birds.