Pink Hair in the Garden! Muhlenbergia capillaris (pink muhly 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. 

Muhlenbergia capillaris - Pink muhly grass
Muhlenbergia capillaris – Pink muhly grass by Heather Paul

If push came to shove, I could produce a list of my favorite plants of all time.

Near the top of my list would be the fantastic, native grass,  Muhlenbergia capillaris. Or, as it is commonly known – hairy-awn muhly or the fabulous pink muhly grass.

Muhlenbergia capillaris – Pink Muhly grass

I first came across this muhly grass back in the late 90s while working at Plant Delights Nursery.

We were expanding the gardens into a new property, and we planted one entry point with Muhlenbergia capillaris en masse.

This grass is made for large installations and mass planting.

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 and seed heads are borne above the foliage.

Muhlenbergia capillaris - Pink muhly grass

White Pink Muhly Grass

Large installations of highlight he dramatic reddish-pink flowers.

Muhlenbergia capillaris

images from,

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 soils.

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

native plants for a New England Garden - Asters and pink muhly grass
A classic combination of native plants for a New England Garden – Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius) and pink muhly grass by Lydia Fravel.

Rochelle’s Notes on Pink Muhly 

If push came to shove, I suppose I, too, could produce a list of favorite plants of all time – and it would change daily.  But I think I’d have to qualify them as my favorite plants to look at and be inspired by – and my favorite plants that I can actually grow

As a zone 5/6 New Englander, Pink Muhly Grass annoyingly sits in between these two lists.  

Technically, I live in Zone 6 – but before the last USDA hardiness zone map change, I was in Zone 5. The reality is that I really can’t act too confidently about anything that is only happy to zone 6, and Pink Muhly grass is that.  I’ve planted dozens of plants in a variety of locations around my garden, and I think only 2 or 3 have survived.  My success rate is wildly inconsistent, and none of the persisting plants have yet to thrive. 

I have yet to see even a tiny whisper of the frothy pink clouds of foliage that I covet. 

I have two more full sun spots where I am considering growing it – but the soil is heavy and often wet (it has a fair amount of clay) in one of them.  Pink Muhlygrass likes moist to dry soil.  The other has rocky soils and is the closest thing I have to a pine barren (Pink Muhly is native to pine barrens). I suspect if I am going to have any luck – it will be in the second spot.  I’ll let you know how it goes.   

Pink muhly grass and yellowing ginkgo biloba trees
Pink muhly grass and yellowing ginkgo biloba trees. by John Winder

Pink Muhly Grass FAQ

Will Pink Muhly grass grow in zone 5?

No, not reliably or well. You can experiment with creating microclimates where it could thrive – but mostly, I’d say don’t waste your money without testing first.

How fast does muhly grass grow?

It’s not fast enough to enjoy in one season. If you are in an area where it isn’t hardy, pick something else. It will take a few years of growth and maturity to turn into a perfect fluffy pink cloud. 

What to plant with pink muhly grass?

You need to match conditions first.  Pink muhly grass is happy in poor soils and open woodlands. Take a look at its native habitats and replicate. On the design side, I think a light, fairly light, and frothy plant like this is a great foil and contrast for a denser, more shapely plant.  I’m inclined to pair it with the weighty look of big-leaf hydrangeas or the shrubby but shapely woody St. John’s wort (hypericum prolificum) – plus I love the idea of pink and yellow in the garden. I also think it would be very cool with large architectural succulents or agave or something like a castor bean plant.

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  1. Paul W says:

    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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