Muhly Grass

Grow Your Own – July 2014

Many of us feel a sense of serenity and a connection with nature when we’re around a body of water. Florida has more than 10,000 miles of rivers and streams, nearly 8,000 lakes, over 700 freshwater springs, and the second longest coastline in the United States. With all the news in recent years about the health of our waterways, we are becoming more and more aware of the challenges of maintaining our gardens and lawns in a Florida-Friendly way.
Even if we don’t live on the water, we all live in a watershed area that ultimately drains into a body of water. When chemicals, grass clippings, and pet waste make their way from residential landscapes into our rivers and streams, the resulting pollution affects the health of the water and the plants and animals, including humans, which depend on it. Thus, each of us has a responsibility to do our part to ensure the good health of our precious water systems.
No matter where you live, you should consider reducing the chemicals you apply to your landscape and take care to prevent grass clippings and other yard waste from going into the storm drains. Become familiar with the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping and implement as many of these practices as you can. For more information on these principles, go to
If you live on a body of water, install a 10-foot “maintenance-free zone” where your property meets the water. This means you should install only plants that don’t require fertilizers, pesticides, or mowing. Once established, the plants within this zone shouldn’t need much, if any, attention from you.
If you’d like a grassy look along your seawall or bulkhead, Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a great native plant that grows 2-5 feet tall. In late summer and early fall, the pink feathery flowers are striking. Elliott’s love grass (Eragrostis elliottii) is another, shorter (6-18 inches tall) grass that has a lovely display of seed-flowers in fall. Another good salt-tolerant choice is the coontie (Zamia pumila), which has fewer pest enemies than the long-popular sago palm.
If you need plants that will grow in salt or brackish water, salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina patens) and sand cordgrass (Spartina bakeri) are good choices. Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) should work well near water’s edge if it’s only occasionally flooded.
Ground covers are good to use at water’s edge, even around retention ponds, in place of turf grass. Perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata) has yellow flowers that provide an additional splash of color. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) is another flowering option. Both grow less than six inches tall and will become quite thick over time, making weeding much less of a chore.
For help in finding more plants that would grow well in the maintenance-free zone, go to There’s a good list of choices based on the site’s sun exposure on pages 33-35.
Living in Florida means living on or near a body of water. As stewards of this delicate and beautiful environment, we all need to think Florida-Friendly as we grow our own.


About Aline Clement

Aline Clement is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.