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Muhly Grass

January 17 • 2022

Landscaping with Florida Native Grasses

In nearly every landscape design I work on, I always use multiple types of Florida Native grasses. There are so many other choices to use instead of Fountain Grass or Pampas Grass! They typically require less of everything! They tend to require less water and fertilizer but most importantly, they add to your home’s beneficial wildlife palette. Here are some of the key characteristics for my favorite grasses list!

1. Fakahatche Grass

Fakahatchee Grass
Fakahatchee Grass

Fakahatchee Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) is incredibly easy to grow, has tall, thick, bright green blades coming from the clump. These typically grow to around 4-5’ height and width. This grass makes an excellent statement and used constantly in buffer projects where you would want to create a natural screen or fence. During the summer, you will see long stalks of inconspicuous flowers emerge and will mature into seeds making it a popular food choice for many birds. Fakahatchee is also larval food for the Byssus Skipper butterfly. They thrive in full sun but they do live quite well in partial shade, they may not be as full, but still beautiful! While this grass has almost no maintenance requirements, we have seen that it thrives when trimmed to about 12” during the winter. Most grasses do well in well drained soils, but Fakahatchee can do just as fine in regular inundation of rainwater making it a super versatile native grass. There also is a dwarf variety of Fakahatchee that is widely used in landscaping with all the same great characteristics but just generally stays around 2-3’ height and width making a nice choice for medians or small spaces.

2. Muhly Grass

Muhly Grass
Muhly Grass

Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is becoming a widely used native grass in the landscape because of its showy pink-purple plumes in the Fall. This slender grass is most used in border plantings and mass plantings as it is a showstopper in the Fall. This grass does well in full sun and well drained soils, generally likes to stay a bit dryer than wet, making it a clear choice for coastal use as well. Muhly grass typically grows to about 3-4’ in height, but we have seen it a little larger given a happy place in the garden. At our farm, we always trim back the entire grass to about 12-18” and usually apply a thin dressing of pine straw mulch. This type of mulch offers a sustainable approach to mulching and over time will lower the pH creating the best soil environment for your Muhly grass.

3. Sand Cordgrass

Sand Cordgrass
Sand Cordgrass

Sand Cordgrass (Spartina bakeri) is a wonderful clumping grass perfect for edges of lakes, water features, or rain gardens. It likes moist soils and can tolerate occasional inundation of rainwater. This large grass typically matures at 3-6’ in height and width and has a rough underside on the blades making it very distinguishable in the landscape. Cordgrass offers a nice robust appearance in a full sun setting but will also do fine in partial shade. While this landscape grass offers no flowers, it does offers great texture in the garden. Often used in slope management to enforce the soils making it an excellent for erosion control.

More Florida Native Grasses

These three grasses are our favorite, no hassle Florida native grasses. However, we fortunately have many more types of native grasses to use in more specific gardens like Wiregrass, Purple Lovegrass, Elliott’s Lovegrass, and Panic Grass. Each of these have their own requirements and benefits but the Fakahatchee, Muhly, and Sand Cordgrass are great choices even for the beginner Florida Gardener!

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