Pruning a Native Favorite: Muhlenbergia Rigens

Muhlenbergia rigens, commonly known as deer grass, is a graceful California native that thrives with little care. With its mounding form, cascading green blades, and golden flower spikes, M. rigens is a fine choice to use as an accent or for mass planting. Placed in an area of your garden with a western exposure, this interesting ornamental grass catches the afternoon light just right, providing a sense of calm in the garden.

A low maintenance plant, M. rigens has few cultural requirements to keep it looking good throughout the year. First, it must be watered regularly and deeply the first year to establish a healthy root system. Once established, it requires low to moderate water.  Second, M. rigens benefits from one good pruning per year which opens the crown to allow sunlight in, promoting new growth.

Pruning is generally done in late January through early February. I like to wait until February, leaving valuable habitat elements such as seed and cover for birds. Don’t wait too long though, as the objective is to prune only old growth. Waiting brings the risk of new spring shoots being cut. Below is a step by step process for effectively and easily pruning this valuable California native.

Pruning Muhlenbergia Rigens

  • Sharpen shears of choice. Because the flower stalks are dense and firmer than grass blades, I use bypass shears rather than the standard 5” grass shear. The grass shear may be used to touch up any stragglers.
  • Grab a handful of grass from the outside portion of the plant and pull taut.
  • Using bypass shears, prune grass 6 – 7 inches from soil level.
  • Work outer edge first, moving toward center, circling the plant as you go.
  • Cut grass so that it mounds slightly at center. This promotes even growth and keeps the overall shape of the plant uniform.

That’s it. Easy peasy. If you have swaths of the deer grass, check with your local Native American Basketweavers Association, as they may be able to use the cuttings for weaving projects. If you don’t have this lovely grass in your garden, consider planting one or more. Here are a couple of resources for researching or purchasing deer grass:

Annie’s Annuals – In addition to having an amazing selection of plants,  Annie’s has a photo of a gorgeous basket woven with deer grass on her site.

Las Pilitas Nursery – Excellent source of information regarding California natives.

Floral Native Nursery – Local nursery, Chico, Ca. The owner, Germain Boivin, is a walking encyclopedia and incredibly helpful.

Amber Galusha

Always exploring, creating and cultivating, and sharing what I observe along the way. To visit my professional site, visit ambergalusha.com

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Bill - February 4, 2011 - 6:55 am

Encouraging the planting of native ornamental grasses is very wise. This oft overlooked practice beautifies the landscape and prevents invasive/exotic plants and their diseases from taking over the local environment. Thank you for this wonderful post. I hope it encourages other people to practice what you teach!

Amber - February 4, 2011 - 11:05 am

I am so happy to know another person who feels this way, Bill. Like I always say, there is a native plant alternative for every exotic you might want to use in the landscape…a person just has to be curious enough to find it. I love my native garden and am happy I decided to kill my lawn!

Shannon - February 4, 2011 - 8:34 pm

Thanks for posting the links. I’m usually just a vegetable gardener, but I’m beginning to get the urge to spruce up our landscaping too. I will definitely be looking at low maintenance natives when I do work on it.

Amber - February 8, 2011 - 8:18 pm

This particular grass would work well in your area, Shannon. If you need any help deciding, you know where to find me : )