Tips and Timing for Cutting Back Ornamental Grass
Copyright © 2010 by McGroarty Enterprises Inc.
Ornamental grass is a great addition to just about any
landscape. Graceful ornamental grass clumps add delightful texture and
interest to the garden in all seasons, they are incredibly easy to care
for and there are hardy ornamental grass varieties suitable for any
climate. Gardeners who are plagued with ravenous deer can also enjoy
ornamental grass in their gardens as the plants are generally disliked
One thing you need to know before cutting back the dry,
dead stems of ornamental grass is whether the grass is a cool season or
warm season grass. If you don’t know what particular variety of ornamental
grass is in your yard, observing its growth habits will tell you whether
it is a cool season or warm season grass.
Some of the cool season ornamental grasses are fescue,
ribbon grass (Phalaris), feather grass (Stipa), northern sea oats and
tufted hair grass. Warm season ornamental grass includes both little and
big bluestem, Japanese blood grass, maiden grass (Miscanthus), fountain
grass (Pennisetum) and hardy pampas grass (Saccharum).
Unless the plant becomes too shabby over winter, trimming back the dead stems of cool season ornamental grass can wait until the first balmy, late winter or very early spring day. As soon as any snow melts and the ground begins to thaw, cool season grasses should be cut back. Waiting too long risks damaging the new shoots that will begin to emerge as soon as the weather begins to shift toward spring. Cut back cool season grasses so about a third of last year’s growth remains. Be careful to not cut back a cool season ornamental grass too far, as this can seriously harm the plant. Resist the temptation to burn off the dead foliage of a cool season grass, as this will also damage the growing tips. Don’t worry that these remaining dried stems will be unsightly, because the bright new spring growth will soon hide it nicely.
Warm season grasses can be left standing later into the spring while you take care of more urgent gardening tasks. Providing you don’t wait so long that the new foliage is already emerging, warm season grasses can be cut back to the ground. If you can already see some new green growth emerging as you prepare to trim the plant, just cut above it, being careful to not damage the new growth, otherwise all season long the plant will look like it has a crew cut.
Always wear heavy gloves and long sleeves while working
with ornamental grass. The leaves on some, especially the Miscanthus
varieties, can be very sharp and can quickly tear up your hands and
arms. Wear eye protection as you cut the grass, to prevent bits of dried
grass from getting into your eyes.
Tie a rope or wrap a bungee cord or two around the
ornamental grass clump before cutting the dead foliage. Tie or wrap the
grass fairly tightly about two feet up from ground level, and then cut
below the rope or bungee cord. Not only will this make the grass easier
to handle as you cut it, but the entire bundle can then be carried away
in one neat package.