Updated: Mar 1, 2021
By Emmy Ulmschneider and Debbie Roland, Master Gardeners
Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is one of the grasses that is native to the Permian Basin. This beautiful, showy grass is a perennial that forms a dense clump of thin pointed leaves. I have two in my yard, the largest is 4’ in diameter and 4’ tall.
A plus for people living in the country: Deer do not like this grass and will avoid it.
The leaves range from green to pale silver green. At first the leaves are upright then, as the season progresses, they begin to arch, looking much like a fountain. During the summer, slender purple or yellow spikes will rise up to 5’ tall. You will need ample space for these grasses.
Deer Grass reaches maturity in two seasons and does not reseed easily. This plant is a great choice for xeric yards. It requires full sun, well drained soil and is beautiful when mass planted. When mass planting be sure to leave room between plants. If planted alone it can make a statement planted beside a large rock or attention getting hardscape because grasses bring movement, color, and texture to a garden across the seasons.
This grass is well behaved and, once established, can be ignored for weeks at a time. Best of all, there are no disease issues.
In late January or early February it can be cut back to about 18” using clippers (a big job) or an electric hedge trimmer (much easier).
Butterflies and birds love this grass and use it for shelter during cold weather. Native bunch grasses, like deer grass, prevent erosion, help to retain soil moisture, and provide food as seed or as a host plant for insects. Those insects, in turn, support a variety of our urban wildlife, especially birds. With so much going for them, grasses are worth planting to bring a touch of wild and transform an urban landscape into urban habitat.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.