Mexican feather grass california

Mexican Feather Grass Seed – Stipa Tenuissima Ornamental Grass Seeds

Grass Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 6 – 10

Height: 16 inches

Width: 12 inches

Foliage Color: Medium green

Flower Color: White spikes

Growth Rate: Fast

Fall Color: Golden brown

Soil Requirement: Average garden soil, pH 6.0 – 7.0

Environment: Full sun

Moisture Requirements: Average to dry

Planting Directions

Temperature: 68 – 72F

Average Germ Time: 2 – 3 weeks

Light Required: Yes

Depth: Cover seeds lightly

Sowing Rate: 5 – 6 seeds per plant

Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 12 inches

Care & Maintenance: Stipa

Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) – Grown from Mexican Feather Grass seeds, this beautiful mounded ornamental grass with needle-like flexible leaves forms dense, bright green clumps. The flowers are silky awns that appear in June and change from green to gold as they mature. These ornamental grasses are especially striking when planted in masses, but they also can be grown in containers with nice results.

Stipa tenuissima Mexican Feather Grass also is commonly called Silky Thread Grass or Mexican Needle Grass, and it has moderate cold-hardiness and performs very well in hot summer months. This is an environmentally-friendly ornamental grass with virtually no pests or diseases.

How To Grow Mexican Feather Grass From Seed: Start the Stipa tenuissima seeds indoors in the early spring. Use small pots filled with seed starting mix. Place the ornamental grass seeds onto the soil and cover thinly with sand or soil and keep the seeds moist. Mexican Feather Grass will bloom the first year. Plant the ornamental grass in full sun and in well-drained soils that are moisture retentive but never wet and not overly rich. A sandy-loam soil being ideal as they can be short-lived in heavy soils.

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Stipa/Nassella tenuissima


***Note: This is an emerging invasive species in California, so the regions listed above are based on where it has the potential to become invasive based on Sunset climate zones where this plant can grow, and not where it has become invasive in California. It has a Plant Risk Evaluator (PRE) score that indicates a high risk of invasiveness in California, and has been added to the list of Watch plants on the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) Inventory.

Deceptively beautiful, the emerging invasive Mexican feathergrass is a graceful, delicate and fine textured ornamental grass. It grows in a dense fountain-like clump with slender leaves that roll tightly inward so that they appear wiry. It blooms in late spring with a greenish flower cluster that persists well into fall as it ripens to golden brown.

Stipa tenuissima is a great example of a grass that is native to one part of the U.S. but invasive in another. It is native to the mountains of west Texas and southern New Mexico south to central Mexico. There is also a separate native population in southernmost South America in Argentina and Chile.

Be aggressive when pruning grasses

One of the most impressive displays of ornamental grasses I have ever seen was in an estate garden where massive stands rose majestically as background plants and smaller tufts intermingled with broadleaf shrubs and perennials.

Each species was not only striking in appearance but welcomed as maintenance-free 51 weeks of the year, an important issue in a large garden. Not until winter did the grasses demand attention when they turned brown and brittle and needed pruning.

Handling dozens of tall clumps in this garden was easy enough for a hired professional, but for the home gardener, wrestling with large species doesn’t always equate with easy care and low maintenance.

Many homeowners who have replaced lawns with ornamental grasses are surprised when their selections grow taller and wider than expected and pruning becomes a conundrum.

Deciding when to prune can be as simple as setting an arbitrary date or as complicated as waiting until grasses reach their ultimate golden beauty but before they are ravaged by wind and rain, broken into pieces and scattered.

The key is twofold — paying attention to color and to weather forecasts. As long as grasses remain mostly green and strong, they can withstand early storms; but by January, deciduous species lose color, stems weaken, and they begin to collapse. A series of storms blowing in off the Pacific can dash a dynamic scene before we’re able to get outdoors.

In colder climates, gardeners leave tawny grasses standing throughout winter to peek out from under a coating of snow and lend an ethereal look to a stark landscape. They collapse in one spot and new growth doesn’t begin until spring.

But without extended cold spells along the North Coast, most grasses here break dormancy as early as January and begin sending up new green shoots during the rainy season.

By delaying pruning, we lose the advantage of growth that may reach 12 inches tall, growth largely unseen when hidden inside dry, messy clumps. Timely pruning allows fresh shoots to develop into arching tufts before spring arrives.

Trimming options

Pruning methods vary widely and depend on personal preferences for tools as well as grass species and maturity.

When grasses are young or when a species is pliant by nature, shearing is as uncomplicated as deadheading and trimming perennials. But when grasses have been in the ground for several years or have developed thick, tough stems, pruning can be quite laborious.

It may take a little experimenting to find your preferred method; you may want to use more than one tool on a single grass.

I like to use long-handled loppers and push grasses away from me as I cut, and then make a final trim with a shearing tool or hedge trimmer to reduce the height. But some gardeners use a power hedge trimmer for the entire job on all species.

Hand pruners work very well when grasses are young or on species with thin blades such as fescues (Festuca). A rechargeable shearing tool such as the Ryobi or Craftsman combo clipper or grass trimmer is also handy except on the toughest stems.

Some gardeners prefer a string trimmer while others resort to a chain saw for rigid stems. The latter, however, takes special skill and can’t be recommended.

No matter the method, it pays to trim low to the ground. Once a mound 10 inches high is left, it’s very difficult to ever trim lower. I’ve found that trimming fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale) and other medium-to-small species as low as 1 to 2 inches and silver grass (Miscanthus) as low as 2 to 4 inches encourages the return of beautiful green mounds.

However you approach the job, consider safety issues. Grass blades can be surprisingly sharp; so wear gloves. Pruning demands close-up contact with brittle stems and leaves; so wear eye protection.


Evergreen species, such as deer grass (Muhlenbergia) and giant feather grass (Stipa gigantia) require trimming only every few years. Fluffy Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima aka Stipa tenuissima) looks most attractive when dead leaves and fluffy seed heads are raked out with a hand tool rather than trimmed at all.

And instead of trimming blue fescue, it may be wise to simply replace small tufts every year or two.

When a grass becomes too massive, it’s often necessary to remove it altogether. If digging it out proves overwhelming, cut it as low to the ground as possible, cover with a durable layer of black plastic or thick cardboard to exclude all light, and top with a layer of mulch until roots have died and the site can be replanted.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the weekly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 664-9476.

How to Care for Mexican Feather Grass

feather grass image by japonka from

Mexican feather grass is one of the loveliest of all the ornamental grasses, and retains its beauty from spring until early winter. In spring, Mexican feather grass can brighten up any landscape with its bright green color. In summer, feathery plumes will emerge from the grass, turning from green to golden as the summer progresses. Mexican feather grass is smaller than many ornamental grasses, and will be about 30 inches tall at maturity. Plant Mexican feather grass, and once it’s established, it will require almost no maintenance.

Plant Mexican feather grass in well-drained soil, in sun or light shade. If you are planting more then one clump, plant the clumps approximately 18 inches apart. If you live in a climate where the winter temperatures routinely fall below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, plant Mexican feather grass in a container and bring it indoors during the winter.

Keep the soil damp for the first growing season, but don’t water to the point that the soil is saturated. After the first year, normal rainfall will be adequate. Mexican feather grass is very drought resistant.

Prune Mexican feather grass in late winter, leaving only a few inches of grass. New foliage will appear in spring.

Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican feather grass (Nassella or Stipa tenuissima) brims with grace. The slightest wind sends the delicate flower heads and thin leaves of this perennial grass into motion. Native to North American drylands, Mexican feather grass thrives in quick-draining, lean soil and tolerates drought with ease. It reseeds to naturalize in meadows or on slopes for erosion control. Pair it with flowering perennials or succulents.

genus name
  • Nassella or Stipa tenuissima
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • To 3 feet wide
flower color
  • White
season features
  • Summer Bloom,
  • Colorful Fall Foliage,
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Drought Tolerant,
  • Slope/Erosion Control
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Good for Containers
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8,
  • 9,
  • 10
  • Division

Suits Dry Landscapes

Mexican feather grass is native to west Texas, New Mexico, and portions of Mexico. Its graceful mounding habit and fine-texture, semi-evergreen foliage is a welcome addition to dry landscapes. Mexican feather grass reseeds with gusto in some areas and has been identified as invasive in some states—including California—where it is not recommended for planting. Check with your state extension service before planting Mexican feather grass.

Find more tips on landscaping in dry climates like Texas here.

Low-Water Wonder

Who says dry landscapes look like multiple shades of taupe? Pair Mexican feather grass with other perennials that thrive in dry conditions for a low-maintenance color- and texture-rich landscape that is an oasis for wildlife. Great plants for dry landscapes include sedum, which stores water in its succulent leaves while its flowers provide color for weeks in late summer and fall. Black-eyed Susan, a pollinator favorite, boasts bright yellow flowers. Coreopsis begins blooming in early summer and continues until the first frost.

You can also call on Mexican feather grass when planting containers for hot, dry locations. This tough grass adds graceful movement and long-lasting texture to potted gardens from planting in early spring until frost. Pair it with low-water annuals, such as lantana, moss rose, and strawflower.

Discover tough perennials that thrive even in dry shade.

Mexican Feather Grass Care Must-Knows

This ornamental grass grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Water plants weekly during the first growing season after planting. Moving forward, you’ll need to water this perennial only during extreme dry periods. Cut back or rake out dead foliage in early spring before the plant begins growing.

Divide Mexican feather grass plants in early spring, right after they begin to send up new green shoots. Dig up the entire clump, then use a sharp spade to cut the clump into three or four sections. Replant each section, watering it well after planting.

Plant Mexican Feather Grass With:

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Sedums are nearly the perfect plants. They look good from the moment they emerge from the soil in spring and continue to look fresh and fabulous all growing season long. Many are attractive even in winter when their foliage dies and is left standing. They’re also drought-tolerant and need very little if any care. They’re favorites of butterflies and useful bees. The tall types are outstanding for cutting and drying. Does it get better than that? Only in the fact that there are many different types of this wonderful plant, from tall types that will top 2 feet to low-growing groundcovers that form mats. All thrive in full sun with good drainage. Ground cover types do a good job of suppressing weeds, but seldom tolerate foot traffic. Some of the smaller ones are best grown in pots or treated as houseplants.

Image zoom

Asters get their name from the Latin word for “star,” and their flowers are indeed the superstars of the fall garden. Some types of this native plant can reach up to 6 feet with flowers in white and pinks but also, perhaps most strikingly, in rich purples and showy lavenders.Not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some are naturally compact; tall types that grow more than 2 feet tall benefit from staking or an early-season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July or so to keep the plant more compact.

Mexican feather grass looks like a hazy smudge of golden color in the distance, and who wouldn’t want that as a backdrop in the garden?

Like other grasses in the Stipa genus, Mexican feather grass develops delicate pale green flowers which turn wheat-colored, at the tips of stems that move in a breeze. In addition to looking beautiful, it requires little water, intermingles easily with other perennials, and will provide structure in a garden bed nearly year-round.

In addition to Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima or Nassella tenuissima), there are many other useful varieties of feather grasses; heights, colors, and growing tendencies differ. For landscaping ideas, here are a dozen of our favorite gardens with feather grasses:

Gauzy Backdrop

Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

White flowers with yellow centers pop against a backdrop of Mexican feather grass. In my garden, I planted a bed of grasses and low-water perennials including Echinacea ‘White Swan.’ To recreate the look, plant a mix of Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ ($12.95 apiece from White Flower Farm) and Stipa Tenuissima ($10.99 apiece from High Country Gardens). Both ship for fall planting.

Slope Softener

Above: Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett.

A variety of grasses, including feathery Stipa gigantea, solve problems in a Dorset garden sited “mostly on an exposed, north-facing slope,” says UK-based designer Robert Kennett. “This border looks particularly dazzling when its architectural shapes are covered in frost.” A 4-inch pot of Stipa Gigantea available seasonally from Annie’s Annuals for $8.95.

Breezy Buffer

Above: Photograph courtesy of Robert Kennett.

In the same Dorset garden, designer Robert Kennett planted Mexican feather grass at the front of a border to “billow in the breeze…for a dynamic dimension.”

Driveway Border

Above: Photograph by Morgan Satterfield.

Mexican feather grass planted alongside the driveway helps “soften things up and disguises the ugly fence,” says blogger Morgan Satterfield, who replaced her lawn with a grant from the local water district. For more, see Home Turf: Goodbye to a Front Lawn.

Defining Moment

Above: Photograph by Dennis Burnett courtesy of Tait Moring & Associates.

Mexican feather grass is planted in clumps at the edge of Austin, Texas-based landscape architect Tait Moring’s driveway. See more in Landscape Architect Visit: At Home with Tait Moring in Austin, TX.

Movement Matters

Above: Photograph by Rob Co.

Garden designer Jennifer Segale planted Mexican feather grass in pots in her own garden: “Stipa and other grasses give movement, which I find is incredibly important in container gardens,” she says. “Clusters of potted plants can feel heavy and stagnant without a feeling of openness and ample movement.” For more, see Garden Visit: My Driveway Oasis in Half Moon Bay, California.

Up on the Roof

Above: Photograph by Marni Majorelle.

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