This past weekend was sunny and beautiful with temperatures reaching into the 60s, quite a change from the relentless cold, rain (and snow) that we've been having. These temporary warm spells are great opportunities to get out in the garden and get some chores out of the way. One of these is trimming back ornamental grasses.
Late February and early March is the best time for this in north Alabama. You want to cut the grass back before new growth begins in the spring. Leaving the dead remnants will not affect the health of the plant but it can present an ugly picture.
Of course, some people cut the foliage back in the fall but there are two good reasons to wait. One, leaving the foliage brings winter interest to the garden and it is attractive (although some folks may disagree with that). Two, leaving the grass stalks will provide protection to the plant during the winter. Ornamental grasses are easy to grow and almost fool-proof but one thing they will not tolerate is excessive moisture. Cutting grass back in the fall causes water to collect in the open stems and this promotes crown rot which can surely kill the plant.
Cutting grasses back close to the ground at the end of the winter season will ensure an attractive and healthier plant and it promotes better growth since the warming rays of the sun will reach the new emerging grass quicker. This process is a substitute for the periodic burning and grazing that take place in natural grassland ecology. Of course, burning grass is not an option to most home gardeners. I use hedge trimmers which makes the job fast and efficient but any sharp tool will get the job done.