Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer Grass)
This native California grass is commonly called deer grass, although deer generally avoid it. In California, it ranges from Shasta County to the Mexican border. It is also found in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico usually below 7000 ft. in chaparral, yellow pine forest, valley grasslands, and wetland-riparian plant communities.
Deer Grass in Gardens
Muhlenbergia rigens is considered a warm-season bunch grass with long, thin blades that arch fountain-like from a broad mound reaching 3-5 ft. in height and 4-6 ft. in width.
- In summer, thin, tawny flower stalks carry narrow flower heads another 3-4 ft. above the bright, sometimes silvery green foliage.
- The bulky size is most appropriate for gardens with ample space.
- Easily grown in nearly any soil conditions, deer grass reaches peak development in sunny sites.
- In shade, grass clumps are smaller, flowering is sparse, and little or no irrigation is needed.
- Winter rains are adequate to promote vigor with little or no irrigation required during the summer, but summer moisture keeps its bright green foliage vibrant.
- In flower, the arching form creates a dramatic display as a single specimen or when massed in drifts.
- Though deer do not usually forage on deer grass, rabbits, ground squirrels, and voles are known to nibble on young plants or to burrow into mature tufts.
This fast-growing grass can reach maturity from seedling stage in two seasons.
- Deer grass is tidy and well-behaved and may be completely neglected for a couple of years without suffering.
- It stays best looking when irrigated in the dry season and then cut down to 3 in. or lower every 1-3 yrs. in winter. It re-grows rapidly in spring.
- In a more natural environment, deer grass can go for years without being pruned. It may be groomed occasionally by pulling out dead stalks and stems with a rake.
- Single plants create admirable statements especially when set against large boulders or architecturally sculpted hardscape or surrounded by attractive mulch.
- Plants set too closely together lose the boldness of their individual character.
- One of its finest characteristics is that it does not reseed easily and become invasive like the even larger pampas grasses to which mature specimens are sometimes compared.
Starting from Seed
Deer grass can be started from seed in pots early in the year and planted out in fall to take advantage of winter rains to become established.
- Summer irrigation is needed, especially inland, until plants mature.
- After a few years, mature plants may be divided following severe pruning and then transplanted elsewhere during winter months.
- A sharp spade is needed to cut through the dense clump and fibrous roots.
Long before gardeners became enamored with the striking presence of deer grass in western landscapes, deer grass was well known.
- Historically, the long flower stems have been used by many Native American tribes for constructing coiled baskets.
- Seeds were ground and used with corn meal for bread or mush.