How to Landscape with Ornamental Grasses

by Gail Hedrick, El Paso Master Gardener

Ornamental native grasses have so many great qualities that it is hard to resist including them in your landscape. As with all natives, they are drought tolerant once established and require minimal maintenance. They provide a different texture and add graceful movement on our many breezy days. You can easily scatter them throughout an area to provide continuity or use them in a mass planting for high impact all year long. In winter their color and showy seedheads add interest against the stark forms of our deciduous shrubs and trees.

Muhly grasses offer year-round attraction:

Regal Mist or Purple Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) – 3’x3′ and hardy to –10° This showy beauty has become popular and for good reason. Its loose, airy leaves and striking pink plumes glow in the sun from late summer to early winter. Its rosy color begins to fade in winter to ivory. Best used in masses or as a border, pairing Regal Mist with the 5′ tall Autumn Glow (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) creates a strong background for the lower plant.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) – 3′-6′ tall and hardy to –10° A larger grass with thick stems and tall, spikey foliage that flowers through the fall. Its height, bright green color and large feathery seedheads make it a perfect solution for a landscape screen or background plant. Many gardeners are replacing old Pampas Grass with Bamboo Muhly.

El Toro or Bull Muhly (Muhlenbergia emersleyi) 3’x3′ and hardy to –10° F   This specimen has bluish-grey green leaf blades with wispy purple seedheads in early fall. In winter, these beautiful flowers fade to a soft gold.

Native grasses should not be cut back in summer when they are vulnerable to heat. Also, do not shape them into round clumps as it inhibits new growth. If your grass becomes too large for the space or the clump has died in the center, you divide it. To transplant a division, trim to 4″ above ground level.

All grasses have a strong appearance that works well in your landscape. You will find colors that vary from yellow, tan, brown, blue-grey, pink, purple and orange. Assess your needs in late fall and look for natives to plant in early spring.

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