This is the first in the series 5 for YLP: 5 Easy-To-Grow CA native plants for a waterwise, deer-resistant, wildlife-friendly native garden. Most of these plants will be available at the November YLP plant sale.
#1 of 5 for YLP: Deergrass
Two years ago, my husband was walking along Yosemite Springs Parkway, and just as he was heading towards N. Revis Way, he saw a plant that he really liked.
“I want to have that in our garden” he told me. It was a most beautiful large clump of bunch grass, shaped like a spouting fountain. Its upright, flowered panicles towered above a dense, green tufted base.
It was growing at the top of a steep driveway near a “Native Plants Live Here” sign. My husband said he would arrange for me to meet the Native Plants Lady who tended that garden, so I could learn more about it.
We met shortly after that, and the Native Plants Lady said that it was a Muhlenbergia rigens, commonly known as Deergrass. I thought to myself, “Why would I want to buy one more plant for the deer to eat?”
But it turns out that our local deer do not eat it – although they may lay down beside it. That Deergrass at the top of the driveway was the spark that began my friendship with Leslie Lipton, the Native Plants Lady.
I soon discovered that Deergrass is one of the easiest and fastest California native plants to grow. On our YLP properties, it is a spectacular accent plant, lines paths beautifully, or can create repetition that moves the eye through the garden. It’s great on slopes, next to boulders, or in a flat area. Plant one or three at the street around your address numbers!
When young, Muhlenbergia rigens tolerates weekly watering during the first summer, matures quickly in just a couple of years, and needs very little supplemental water after that. The tuft grows 2-3 ft tall and 4 ft wide, with flowering stalks up to 4-5 ft tall. It is an evergreen grass, meaning that it doesn’t die back in the winter. Every few years, cut it way back in the winter and then watch it come back even better. It prefers sun or part shade, and loves to be under our oaks. It has an extensive root system, providing soil stabilization on slopes.
Only one of the seven Deergrass I planted was nibbled by some critter (a bunny?) when it was young and tender, but it’s doing fine now, so it might be wise to cage it during its first spring/summer. In the wild, it is found in sandy or gravelly soils, but you can grow it in almost any well-draining soil. It has insignificant flowers in the spring/summer that attract seed-eating birds.
Deergrass will be available for purchase at the Native Plants Live Here plant sale in YLP on Nov 14. Whether this is your first native plant, or your 100th, I highly recommend this as a foundational plant for your California native garden.
Have fun in the garden,
“Poppy Patty.” Groos