by Andrea Laine, EMGV
Late winter is one of my favorite times to work in the garden. This afternoon I enjoyed one of those days. The temperature was just right (55-degrees); The sun was shining after a solid week of rainy days; and I was engaged in a productive yet meditative task. I cut back a small stand of ornamental grasses: three pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), a beautiful native species, and one pampas grass (Cortaderia selloanna), a classic ornamental that grows fast and gets big.
Grasses generally require full sun and these two types are no exception. Well-drained soil is also a plus; a gentle sloping property like mine is perfect. These grasses are drought tolerant once established and deer resistant.
It is important to cut the dried ornamental grasses down to 4 to 6 inches from the ground annually in late winter. This affords new shoots the warmth of sunlight and better air circulation. The dried stalks are excellent brown additions to a compost pile, but I decided to practice “composting in place” instead.
Highlights of Pink Muhly Grass
Pink Muhly Grass, four feet tall at maturity, is showy in the fall, at a time when flowers on many other plants have faded. It’s flower stalks feature wispy plumes of dark pink that gracefully sway with a breeze. Come winter the stalks fade to tan as do the grassy parts.
Highlights of Pampas Grass
Pampas grass can grow 6 to 10 feet tall and are hardy to Zone 7b. Mine was expanding almost too quickly when an unusually long cold spell in winter 2017 effectively set it back a few years in size. I have read that they are difficult to remove once established, so it may have been a blessing! It’s leaves are sturdy, flat and green. It’s flower is a light tan plume atop a tough tan stalk.
Sources and Additional Reading
Maintaining ornamental grasses: https://extension.illinois.edu/grasses/care.cfm
Pink Muhly Grass: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/muhlenbergia-capillaris/