My Favorite Ornamental Grass

Whenever anyone asks what is my favorite plant, of course I can never answer. I usually have at least 3 or 4 plants that are my favorite on any given day. This could include the first plant I come across in the garden and the ones I read about at night. If push came to shove, I could produce a list of favorite plants of all time. Near the top of this list would be the fantastic, native grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris or as it is known by one of its common names: hairy-awn muhly.

I first came across this muhly grass back in the late 90’s while working at Plant Delights Nursery. We were expanding the gardens into a new property and one entry point was planted with Muhlenbergia capillaris en masse. This grass was made for mass plantings. When planted in a group, the effect of the reddish-pink flowers is more dramatic. Hairy-awn muhly will mature at 2-3′ tall and wide. In late summer into early fall, the gorgeous flowers are borne above the foliage.

Muhlenbergia capillaris en masse

Muhlenbergia capillaris is native from Connecticut over to Texas and some selections are hardy up here at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden (zone 6a). I was relieved when I saw it growing here as it is truly the one ornamental grass I would want in the garden. If you plan on growing it (which I recommend you do), be sure to grow this fantastic grass in full sun and in well-drained soil. Hairy-awn muhly will take a few years to establish if you plant it as a small plant. It will go dormant in the winter but given the proper growing conditions, it will come back larger each year until it reaches full size. I am not sure why more people do not use Muhlenbergia capillaris where they can, but I for one, hope you will try it in your garden this year.

– Rodney



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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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1 Comment

  1. Paul W on January 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

    And if it’s not perennial in your area…plant it as a show stopping, fall blooming annual. A 3gal may cost 2x what you’d pay for that 10″ mum, but it will look great for months instead of weeks. The list of plants that are more attractive than Muhly when backlit is very, very short. Great pick, Rodney!

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