Use pink muhly grass for winter garden color
My wife, Katie, and I continued our travels in Florida after I was a keynote speaker for the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Conference. We enjoyed collecting seashells on Cocoa Beach while watching the latest SpaceX launch. As children of the 60s who grew up watching the exploits of NASA, this was really cool!
We’ve made our way to New Port Richey -- the locals call it NPR -- just north of Tampa on Florida’s west coast. It’s our first visit there, and we stayed at a historic hotel called The Hacienda, built in 1927. It is on the Registry of Historic Places and has a colorful history.
New Port Richey was known as Hollywood East during the 1920s. The story goes that The Hacienda was built at the request of silent movie star Gloria Swanson, who wanted a place where all her celebrity guests could stay.
It’s even been named by Thrillist as the most haunted hotel in the state of Florida. We didn’t see any ghosts, but one night, I’m sure I heard an ethereal voice in the hallway say, “Miss Swanson, you look marvelous.”
The thing that is striking about The Hacienda is the color of the hotel, which is a brilliant, bright shell pink.
This brings me to this week’s plant, which is pink muhly grass. The hotel has fantastic plantings of muhly grass with its billowy, cloud-like masses of pink flowers.
Gulf Muhly grass is a Southeast native plant that really struts its stuff in fall and winter months. Also known by its botanical name Muhlenbergia capilaris, Muhly grass was chosen as a Mississippi Medallion native plant winner in 2010.
Its unique texture with spiky, upright leaves brings summer interest. But it’s the plant’s last grand flourish that really creates landscape excitement. As long as there isn’t a hard freeze, the color will hold. Even after freezing temperatures, the flower heads keep their airy shape.
There is even a selection with billowing, white flower masses called White Cloud. My social media have been sharing a lot of great-looking images of White Cloud this month.
Consider spacing needs. While a mass planting of Gulf muhly grass is gorgeous, these plants need their individual space to achieve that filled-in mass look.
As with all ornamental grasses, there is really only one maintenance task that can’t be neglected. In late winter, cut the grass clumps back to 6 inches before spring growth starts. This cutting clears the way for new foliage and results in a nicely formed clump. Don’t be tempted to cut back any earlier because you will remove the dry inflorescences that create movement with the wind and habitat for wildlife.
Now is a great time to plant this native species, and the independent garden centers I’ve been visiting have an abundant inventory of great plants to take home with you.