Pink Muhly Grass 101 – Complete Guide to Muhly Grass


Have you been seeing fields of pink fuzzy grass blow in the wind like waves on water? Perhaps you’ve seen some gorgeous pictures of a pink blooming grass that you just have to have! Well, I’ve been growing Pink Muhly Grass for 5 years now from seed to bloom, and can share all that I’ve learned with you!

In this article:

What is Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass is a perennial ornamental fast-growing grass that is native to the Southeastern United States, and parts of New England. Scientifically known as Muhlenbergia Capillaris, it will grow 3′ tall in full sun and well-drained soil. Blooming pink-to-purple in Autumn, this is a very showy ornamental grass.

Native Range

The primary native range of Pink Muhly Grass is the Southern and Southeastern United States, with isolated pockets found in the Southern Midwest and New England. [1]. It does also extend as far South as Mexico and Guatemala.

Reference Table

Scientific NameMuhlenbergia Capillaris
Common Name(s)Pink Muhly Grass, Muhly Grass, Gulf Muhly,  Gulf Hair-Awn, Gulfhairawn Muhly, Purple Muhly
Native Range, USDA ZoneSoutheastern United States, South Midwest/New England, USDA Zones 6-10
Bloom TimeLate Summer to Fall
Bloom Duration, Color4-8 weeks, purple to pink plumes. Very showy!
Height2-3′ tall
Spacing / SpreadIndividual plant will get 2-3′ wide, and space plants 2-3′ apart.
Light RequirementsFull Sun, Partial Shade. Full sun is best for size and blooms.
Soil TypesSandy, Loam, Clay – well drained
MoistureDry to moist

What are the Benefits of Pink Muhly Grass

It is absolutely beautiful!

Pink Muhly Grass provides one of the showiest fall displays of any ornamental grass. In fact, I don’t think I would be remiss to say that this is just about THE Showiest Grass you can grow! It’s growing popularity in the United States, Europe, and Korea attest to how attractive it is and ease of growth.

As much as I love my Little Bluestem or Big Bluestem, nothing compares with the display that Pink Muhly Grass puts on!

Pink Muhly is easy to grow!

This is a grass that you can basically plant and just walk away. It will take in sun, a bit of water and grow healthy and vigorous on it’s own! There really isn’t much in the way of disease that effects it – just make sure it gets plenty of sun and the soil drains well.

purple gulf muhly in autumn

Muhly Grass is fast growing

Pink Muhly Grass grows fast and will bloom the second year after starting from seed. If you are growing from a clump, you will likely be treated to a small bloom that year as long as you planted your Muhly Grass early enough.

It is easy to propagate!

This grass is very easy to grow from seed, and to grow from division. You can dig up a clump in early Spring and use a pruning saw to cut the root mass into several new clumps. Then, you can just replant them to further create your Muhly Grass display!

Pink Muhly is low maintenance

If you plant Pink Muhly Grass in it’s preferred growing conditions, you shouldn’t need to do anything to keep it healthy. Each Spring trim the dead grass back to 2-3″ above ground. And every 3-5 years divide the clump to keep it healthy and vigorous.

Identification and Characteristics

Pink Muhly Grass is easy to identify prior to its prolific purple blooms. You will see a small clump of narrow wire-like blades protruding from a central root mass.

Blades

Blades are quite narrow, only 3/8″-1″ (1-3 cm) wide at the base, but rolled inwards that make it seem round or wire-like. They will be light green or wintergreen in color. The overall plant will be arrayed in a cluster of the wire-like blades. Blades are erect and mostly non-branching.

Bloom / Seed Heads

In late Summer to Fall, Pink Muhly Grass will make small purple seed heads that are finely branched. Seed heads are called spikelets, and are 3-5 mm long by 1-2 mm wide. These seed heads cover half of each blade, creating a purple to pink hue in color. When planted en mass this creates a truly show stopping display with huge curb appeal.

pink muhly grass rain drops
Beautiful intricate water droplets on blades of Gulf Muhly grass

Collecting Pink Muhly Seeds

Seeds of Pink Muhly Grass can be harvested a few weeks after blooming, usually after Thanksgiving until Christmas. The seeds do not fall out of the seed head easily. But using a comb or just stroking the plume with your hand can dislodge seed heads quite well.

Pink Muhly Seed Heads

Pink Muhly seeds can be stored for a couple of years in a cool dry place in an envelope or sealed plastic container (if seeds are totally dried out).

Pink Muhly Grass Root System

The root system of Pink Muhly grass is fibrous. Roots will go approximately 1′ deep. This makes it possible to transplant and divide Pink Muhly Grass.

Does Pink Muhly Grass spread or invasive?

Pink Muhly Grass does not spread and is not invasive. The root system does not have rhizomes or stolons. It forms clumps that will reach 10-12″ wide, but full mature growth of the blades can be 2-3′.

Pink Muhly can only spread by seed, and it does not self seed very much (if at all). I’ve grown this plant for about 5 years, and I have never had a single volunteer. So, in my multi-year experience it does not reseed itself.

Grow and Care for Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass Light Requirements

Sunlight requirements for Pink Muhly grass is full sun (6 hrs / day) to light shade (4 hrs / day). To obtain the largest and showiest plants, plant Pink Muhly Grass where it can receive full sun (6 hours direct sunlight per day).

Soil Requirements for Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly Grass prefers slightly acidic soil, pH5.8-6.8. It can tolerate sandy soil, loam, and even clay as long as it drains well and is not too compacted. [1]

Research has found that a 80:20 mixture of Peat and Pearlite provided the best growing medium. As the clump size and number of blades was the largest at six months using this mixture. [2]

Pink Muhly Grass Water Requirements

For water, Pink Muhly Grass can tolerate drought and even live near wetland as long as it’s soil drains well. So, you probably won’t need to water Pink Muhly Grass except for times of severe drought. It can tolerate occasional flooding, although flooding will result in smaller plants. [3]

Fertilizer

Pink Muhly Grass does not need supplemental fertilizer. It will grow and bloom beautiful colors without any regular supplemental fertilzier. The addition of organic matter such as compost when transplanting is helpful. But no other fertilization is needed.

The pictures you see in this article are of my garden, of Pink Muhly Grass I grew from seed. I’ve never fertilized any of them except a handful of compost when I first planted out the seedlings.

Pink Muhly Growing Zone

Primarily a Southern and coastal native grass, Pink Muhly is only rated to hardiness zones 5-10, or 7-10 (depending on your reference). I live in zone 6 and have no issue growing Pink Muhly Grass. But, if you lived in a colder zone you could consider growing it in a container, and over wintering it in an unheated shed or garage.

Growing Pink Muhly in containers

The fibrous roots of Pink Muhly grass make it possible to grow this ornamental grass in a pot or container. It should be at least 12″ deep to allow the plant to grow of sufficient size. I personally have not done this, as I have plenty of space to propagate this plant.

How to Propagate Pink Muhly Grass

How to Grow Pink Muhly Grass from Seed

Germinating Pink Muhly Grass seed is easy. It just needs to be planted on the surface of some potting soil and kept moist. Germination takes 1-2 weeks.

There are no cold stratification requirements per the USDA NRCS, however the highest germination rates have been recorded when 12 weeks cold stratification occurred [1]. My speculation is that the source plant for seed is the critical factor. With New England species perhaps requiring the stratification while Southern Florida not requiring any stratification.

Steps to propagate Pink Muhly Grass from seed

Pink Muhly Grass Seedlings
  1. Fill pots with moist potting soil, leaving a 12 mm (1/2″) gap at the top.
  2. Sprinkle 3-5 seeds in a pot.
  3. Sprinkle a handful of dry potting soil on top of the seeds (very light covering).
  4. Place a few more seeds on top of the dry soil
  5. Keep the soil moist by misting the pot
  6. Place in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade
  7. Germination should occur within 2 weeks

Purchase Seed

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Pink Muhly Growth Rate

If started from seed, Pink Muhly will typically not bloom the first year. In it’s first year of life, Pink Muhly will typically focus on growing a root mass. However, you can expect blooms in it’s second year of life.

Below you can see our video guide we made a couple years ago on Pink Muhly Grass:

How to propagate Pink Muhly Grass from Division

Divide Pink Muhly grass in early Spring by digging up the root mass, providing about a 2″ gap outside of the plant and digging at a 45 degree angle. Cut the root mass using a pruning saw or bow saw in to 3-4 pieces. Wrap the roots in a moist towel. Replant or pot up the pieces as soon as possible.

Pink Muhly Grass clumps can be divided every 3-5 years. The process is similar to any other division of ornamental grass.

Detailed steps to divide Pink Muhly Grass

  1. In early Spring, dig up the root mass. Using a shovel or spade, dig at a 45 degree angle about 2″ away from the grass clump.
  2. Using a pruning saw, cut the root mass up into 2-4 pieces of equal size
  3. Wrap the root mass in a moist towel until ready to replant in ground or pots
  4. Replant the pieces in favorable locations as soon as feasible. Preferably within an hour or two.

Transplanting Pink Muhly Grass

If you decide that you would like to transplant and move Pink Muhly Grass, it is entirely possible through most of the growing season. As long as it is not blooming, or near blooming, you can dig up the root mass and replant it in a similar sized hole.

The earlier you transplant Pink Muhly grass the better it is for the plant. If you transplant it during hotter temperatures or mid-Summer, you will have to provide lots of supplemental watering.

Pink Muhly Grass throughout the growing season

Almost all pictures you see of Pink Muhly Grass are in it’s Autumn Purple Bloom! And while that is the reason most people purchase and grow Pink Muhly Grass, I thought my readers may enjoy seeing some pictures of Pink Muhly Grass throughout the growing season.

Pink Muhly Grass is a perennial that will come back every year to keep blooming it’s beautiful purple-pink plumes!

Lifecycle of Pink Muhly Grass. *Note – all pictures except the seedling are of 2nd year or older plants.

Pruning and Trimming Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly grass should be cut trimmed and cut back to about 2-4″ above ground in the Spring. To do this efficiently, either tie the grass into a ‘pony tail’, or have someone help you by holding the grass tight. Then, using large garden shears cut the grass off in one snip.

Grass can also be burned in winter. This can be done safely by enclosing the grass plant in an open-topped barrel or metal container. Make sure it is not windy on the day you burn it, and take all necessary precautions (check local fire ordinances / department).

Do not trim Pink Muhly Grass while the plant is actively growing during the season. This will negatively effect the plants ability to bloom. Only trim Pink Muhly Grass when dormant during winter.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Pink Muhly Grass

Wildlife and pest associations

Up to now, there have not been any documented instances of any insect or animal using Pink Muhly Grass for food. No larval hosts, no grazing – nothing. [4]. However, it has been known to attract ladybug beetles, which are a beneficial insect.

There are documented cases of various invasive insects being present on the grass, but not eating them. Both lacewings and seed bugs have been found on or near the grass. [5] [6].

Although the value to insects is limited, the clump forming nature of Pink Muhly Grass make it beneficial to wildlife as it can provide cover. It’s height of 2-3′ can shelter rabbits, small mammals, and birds from predators.

Pink Muhly Deer and Rabbit

Pink Muhly Grass is both Deer and Rabbit resistant. I’ve never lost a plant or suffered significant damage once the plants were established.

The only vulnerability they have is in the seedling stage. I’ve found that both Deer and Rabbits will ‘sample’ many plants whilst they are seedlings, which can often prove fatal to the plant.

Pink Muhly Grass Toxicity

Per the ASPCA, Pink Muhly Grass is not listed as being toxic to dogs, nor any other mammals. [10]

Disease

If a location has too much humidity and not enough air flow, it is possible for Pink Muhly Grass to develop tar spot fungus. Planting Pink Muhly grass in full sun with plenty of airflow is effective at preventing fungus.

Pink Muhly Grass not Blooming

If your Pink Muhly Grass is not blooming, there are several potential causes.

1 – Improper watering. If Pink Muhly Grass does not have consistent moisture, or more over – extreme drought to water it may not bloom.

2 – Unnecessary Pruning. Do not prune or trim Pink Muhly Grass during the growing season. This will interfere with the seed heads forming.

3 – Too much shade. Although Pink Muhly Grass can survive and grow in partial shade, the more shade the plant receives the less it will bloom. Plant Pink Muhly Grass in full sun to ensure it blooms in the Fall.

4 – Disease. If you have your Muhly Grass packed tightly together without enough air circulation, or too much humidity and shade it may develop fungus. This can effect the seed head formation.

Pink Muhly Grass turning Yellow or Brown

After blooming pink/purple in Autumn, Pink Muhly Grass will naturally turn a yellow or brown color as it goes dormant in Winter. It may look like your Muhly grass is dying, but it is not.

Where you can buy Pink Muhly Grass

If you live in the South Eastern United States, it should not be hard to locate Pink Muhly Grass in local nurseries and garden centers. If you live more inland, or in the North, you will likely need to purchase seed online.

Uses of Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly is a great choice for any suburban homeowner or business owner as it is so versatile to use. It is beautiful and is low maintenance. You can easily use Pink Muhly Grass as a border, in a formal manicured flower bed, or a meadow, micro-prairie, or wildflower garden.

But There are 3 primary uses of Pink Muhly Grass:

  1. Ornamental
  2. Erosion Control
  3. Wildlife Cover

Ornamental

Pink Muhly Grass is such a wonderful ornamental grass. I hardly need to extol it’s virtues as an ornamental more than I’ve already said. But, it’s beauty during the growing season and showiness in the Fall combined with it’s low maintenance make this such an obvious choice for anyone wanting an ornamental grass in their garden! [8]

In fact Pink Muhly Grass is one of the best choices for a public pollinator garden. But not for it’s value to pollinators, but it’s general beauty. Research has shown that the public is more accepting of ‘wild’ places when they also find them aesthetically pleasing. [9] Until our perceptions of garden ‘beauty’ change, this grass can at least make the public happier about gardens that differ from historical traditions.

Gulf Muhly snow winter
Pink Muhly Grass in an Autumn snow!

I use Pink Muhly grass as a border in our front, formal flower bed. I also am adding several specimens to our backyard Wildflower Micro-Prairie.

Pink Muhly Companion Plants

Pink Muhly blooms in Autumn, and finding some other plants to bloom with it is quite easy! Here are several plants that will bloom concurrently as Pink Muhly Grass:

Erosion Control

The fibrous roots of Pink Muhly grass have been used as erosion control along the South Eastern coast of the United States for some time now. It can be used to stabilize sand dunes and also for storm water management. [7]

Wildlife Cover

When multiple specimens are present, Pink Muhly Grass can provide cover to birds and small mamals from predators. So, it’s use in meadows, micro-prairies, and wildflower gardens is understandable.

Learn about other Native Grasses….

References:

[1] – Brett Engstrom. Muhlenbergia capillaris (Lamark) Trinius Hairgras, Conservation and Research Plan for New England, New England Wild Flower Society 2004. Retrieved 27MAR2021

[2] – Muchovej, Onokpise, Williams, Livingstone; Growing Medium Effects on the Establishment of Muhlenbergia capillaris, Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 2008 Vol.121 pp.338-339 ref.1. Accessed 28MAR2021

[3] – Kathryne J. Christian, Amy N. Wright, Jeff L. Sibley, Eve F. Brantley, Julie A. Howe, Mark P. Dougherty, Charlene M. LeBleu; Effect of Phosphorus Concentration on Growth of Muhlenbergia capillaris in Flooded and Non-Flooded Conditions. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 1 December 2012; 30 (4): 219–222. doi: https://doi.org/10.24266/0738-2898.30.4.219

[4] – Janet Grabowski. Plant Guide for GULFHAIRAWN MUHLY. USDA NRCS Brooksville Plant Materials Center, Brooksville, Florida Accessed 28MAR2021

[5] – E. R. Carr ; S. K. Braman ; W. W. Hanna. Journal of Environmental Horticulture (2011) 29 (2): 55–59. https://doi.org/10.24266/0738-2898-29.2.55 Retrieved 28MAR2021

[6] – Wheeler, A. G. “Perigenes Similis (Hemiptera: Lygaeoidea: Rhyparochromidae) in Florida: Notes on Habits and Habitats.” The Florida Entomologist, vol. 84, no. 4, 2001, pp. 724–726. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3496411. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.

[7] – Dana Nunez Brown. Using plants for stormwater management””a green infrastructure guide for the Gulf South. Louisiana State University Press. 119 pages, 2015. ISBN 0807155691

[8] -John M. Ruter and Amy B. Carter. Evaluation of Ornamental Grasses in South Georgia. University of Georgia, Dept. of Horticulture, Coastal Plain Station, Tifton, Georgia 31793-0748

[9] – Huber, Gregory. Understanding Perceptions to Improve the Success and Acceptance of Insect Pollinator Habitat in Public Spaces. University of Georgia. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2020. 28154714.Retrieved 28MAR 2021.

[10] – ASPCA toxic plant list. Accessed 29MAR2021. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/m?&

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

Recent Posts