Monday, February 14, 2011

Cutting back ornamental grasses



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.



Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

14 comments:

  1. Happy Valentines day. It was so nice this weekend and such a welcome change. And for the rest of the week is looking good.

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  2. And more beautiful weather for the rest of the week here!! Actually turning off the heater in the greenhouse, yippee! I have a few small grasses, I cut them back last week.....

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  3. Thanks for reminding me that I could be doing this. Happy Valentines Day.

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  4. Just finished mine in Atlanta, also taking advantage of the nice weather. The only downside is that the grasses take three trips to the greenwaste dump to get rid of them all!

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  5. A very informative post. I don't grow any of them (no room) but I was happy to learn by reading your post. I agree ornamental grasses (there are a lot of them around here) look interesting in winter.

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  6. Anyone need clumps of zebra grass? I have one that has gotten to about 3 ft in diameter and it needs dividing. After trimming it this weekend I'm going to run a middle buster through it to dig part of it up. Mary

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  8. Beautiful weather here too, and drier too, nice for a change! I haven't cut back many of my grasses yet because the birds are still using them for cover since I still don't have many woody plants near where most of my grasses are. I am going to cut back some of my muhlies this year, which I haven't done before, because I can't comb out all of the dried leaves on the big ones.

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  9. Yes, it's that time of year. DH and DD will probably burn our grasses tomorrow (DH's day off) unless it's too windy. We try to do it around Valentine's Day. It's like a spring ritual for them. Another sign that spring is on the way! :) ~~Rhonda

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  10. Hi Phillip! Thanks for reminding! Need to give a haircut to my pampas grass!

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  11. Hope you wore long sleeves. I always look like I got in a cat fight pruning the grasses in the yard!

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  12. Got mine cut this weekend but will go back on a few and get them shorter. Some of them were a bit monsterous!! Thanks Phillip!

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  13. It's still a little bit early to cut back our grasses here, but it won't be long. Thanks for the reminder!

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  14. Ornamental grasses are my absolute favorites because of the winter interest and the fact that they withstand my clay and poor drainage. I am just about ready to cut mine down now here in NJ.

    Thrilled to have found your blog and look forward to following along.

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