Mexican feather grass, also called pony tails, is a superb grass known for its shimmering golden panicles.
Mexican feather grass facts
Name – Stipa tenuifolia
Family – Poaceae
Type – perennial, grass
Height – 1 ½ feet (50 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary, well drained
Blooming: May to October
This easy-to-care-for feather grass fits right into any grass bed and also grows well in a pot thanks to its ornamental appeal.
Planting Mexican feather grass, Pony tails
Indifferently in spring or fall in well drained soil.
Select a very sunny location and try to set it towards the front of a bed to make the most of its beautiful panicles.
- Mexican feather grass is hardy and can cope with temperatures as low as 14°F (-10°C).
- Pony tails prefers poor soil to rich soil.
- Propagate through crown division in fall.
Pruning pony tails
No pruning is really required but it is nonetheless possible to cut the stems back at the end of winter.
Indeed, cutting back part of the dried leaves will trigger sending up of new, bright green shoots.
- Use sharp long shears for that.
- Cut away the dried portions of the Mexican feather grass without snipping the young green stems that are budding.
Pruning in this manner will help the grass keep a nice, roundish shape and the color will be more consistent.
Growing Mexican feather grass in a pot
The roots of Mexican feather grass (or pony tails) run along the surface instead of going deep, so best select a wide, shallow pot at least 1 ½ feet (45 cm) across.
- This particular grass will grow shorter if you only give it a pot a few inches deep, but should reach normal height as long as you give it ½ foot of soil (15 cm).
- Ensure very good drainage so that water doesn’t stay put.
Water often, as soon as the soil is dry. For best results in pots, remember to fertilize with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Nettle weed tea is one of the best possible options, but there are others suitable ones like comfrey weed tea, too.
Splitting Mexican feather grass to cover more surface
Mexican feather grass is an easy plant to use for ground cover. The wind swaying the strands is most beautiful.
There are two ways to cover ground with your Pony tails grass:
- one is to stud larger clumps here and there for a hilly, seemingly random appearance.
- the other is to aim for something more homogeneous and even.
In the first case you’ll want to split the clump and leave it as large as possible, whereas in the second you’ll want to break the clump down into smaller strands and spread them evenly. Perform this either early fall or spring, as long as there isn’t any frost foreseen within the following month.
How to split a clump of Mexican feather grass
- Water the ground around the clump thoroughly.
- With a sharp spade, slice the clump through the middle, to the hilt.
- Lever the spade under half the clump, from the center out, to lift it up with as many roots as possible.
- Roots run along the surface rather than going deep, so you’ll have to inch along as you lever the roots up.
- Backfill the remaining half with soil, ridging it somewhat to bolster it up.
- Plant your new clump to its new place, breaking up the soil without necessarily digging a hole, and plunking the new clump atop it.
- Cover the roots over with a lot of soil to cover them entirely.
This will recreate a dune-like feeling and seem quite impressive.
How to spread Mexican grass for even coverage
- Water the ground thoroughly around the clump.
- Dig the entire clump out carefully with a spade.
- With your hands and a cultivator, weave through the clump and tear it apart, ensuring a bunch of stems remains connected to a bunch of roots.
- One mature clump can be divided into 5 to 15 smaller bunches.
- In the target planting area, dig holes about half a foot (12 cm) deep, spacing them evenly by up to a foot (25 cm).
- Place each bunch in a hole and backfill with soil and river sand to ensure drainage.
- Water abundantly the first time, and then weekly in moderate amounts until it has properly settled in.
You’ll soon see a field of gold growing in your garden!
Learn more about Mexican feather grass
This very beautiful perennial is part of the grasses family and it produces beautiful golden panicles from summer to fall.
You can set your feather grass up in perennial beds or shrub beds, and also as a standalone to highlight its superb foliage.
The care it needs is very easy and it is guaranteed to produce a great decorative impact from spring to winter!
Smart tip about Mexican feather grass
Pony tails feather grass adapts particularly well to poor soil types, but loathes them when too moist.
CC BY-NC 2.0: Mia Strong
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Celeste Ramsay
CC BY-SA 2.0: Sharon K.
May I cut my feather grass back midway in August, they are so tall, they lay over on to other plants
Well, if you cut it back as a whole, then you won’t get any of those nice wavy fronds which is one of their appeals. But for sure, it won’t damage or hurt them in the least, so go ahead and shorten it to protect your other plants. Now that you know how big it grows in your setting (it does vary from garden to garden), you can adjust your landscaping to make the most of it without sacrificing other plants!
how do i keep birds away from my mexican feather grass? I’m so sick and tired of seeing them pluck at our grasses.
Hi Brett, it seems they think your grass makes a nice salad bar 🙂
You can either make life hard for them around your grass, or make more appealing away from it. For the former, try to disturb them for a while: set up a pinwheel or a wind jingle, a few sticks connected with thin nylon string to make it hard for them to land nearby. For the latter, try setting up a bird feeder at the other end of the garden for instance. It isn’t easy to control how birds move about, but there’s lots try out! You can also read Keith Hall’s adventure when he tried dealing with a flock of birds that were poisoning his shrubs.
My Mexican feather grass is three feet tall and it gets well watered every two days. It’s also right out in front of the house and gets plenty of sun shine all day. People drive by and tell me how beautiful they look swaying in the wind with their golden panicles. Most all of them around town haven’t gotten more than one foot high. They are so gorgeous!!!!
Hi Bob! You’ve said it! Absolutely striking, I fully agree with you.
Hi! We planted 60 Mexican Feather Grass in May and have not had much luck. We live in Phoenix, so it’s HOT, and the grasses are the color of straw and look dead. My landscaper said to water them once a week for 20 minutes because overwatering them can kill them. The local nursery said to water 20 minutes twice a week and they are still not green… do you have any advice or insight into what is going on? We are desperate and don’t want to have to replace them. Thank you!’
Hi Monica! Yes, it can get really hot in Phoenix! The main problem, it seems, is that the grass didn’t yet really have time to spread roots out before the heat struck. If it’s been weeks, they might be dead. The way to check this is to pull one out and pot it up and bring it to a much cooler spot, indoors even if need be. Without overwatering, give it some water and within a week you should see something happening if it’s alive. In the meantime, stick to watering twice a week and also try protecting each clump from excessive heat with a shade cloth or a piece of carton folded over to cover it like a tent. If it had time to flower, a few seeds might have made it to maturity, they’ll sprout in fall or spring. In the long run, it’s worth waiting it out until fall or next spring, there’s a chance you’ll have some good surprises!
What depth of soil does the plant require while in a pot? I’m not sure how deep of a pot I need.
Hi Jess! It’ll take whatever you give it, but there’s no need to exceed 6 inches (15 cm). If you only give it 3-4 inches (8-10cm), it’ll only grow about 8-10 inches tall (20-25 cm). For shallow pots, you’ll have to water a bit more often than for deeper ones. However, it likes to spread horizontally, so a wide and shallow garden box is perfect.
I have a number of these in half the space I want covered by them. Can I transplant them to where I want them? When and how?
I have had luck transplanting them, they are prolific at reseeding! Be careful to get enough roots. They are very shallow rooted and when they have failed, I know it is one where I didn’t get enough of the roots. Good luck!
Hello Diane, Ron! That’s very true! Thanks for your answer, Diane! It’s easiest to get most of the roots out when the soil is moist, like after a rain or a thorough watering. But if you’ve got a good spade, you can dig out a larger portion of soil around the plant and carry the whole clump over without breaking it. Since you want to cover more surface, though, best split the clumps in half or even fourths with the wet-soil technique. I enriched the article with more information accordingly!