By Steve Boehme
Ornamental grasses are wonderfully carefree, but now is the time to give them some attention. If you’ve left them standing until spring for winter interest, it’s a good idea to cut them back now. Winter weather gradually breaks down some varieties of grasses and they fill your yard with mess. Others are strong enough to survive winter winds intact, but they need to be cut back to the ground before new growth starts.
There are good reasons to wait until spring to cut grasses back. Grasses that are marginally hardy, like pink Muhly grass and blue fescue, benefit from the insulation that their foliage provides. Liriope will look lush and green all winter, turning brown in March, so it’s best to wait until then to cut it back. Grasses also make good forage and cover for birds.
Most ornamental grasses should be cut off a few inches from the ground. Really small grasses like “Little Bunny” can be cut shorter, and large clumps of maiden grass, zebra grass or porcupine grass should be left six inches tall.
Our favorite tool for this task is a gas-powered hedge trimmer. “Weedeaters” do a good job on small, soft grasses. Really tough large grasses can be easily cut with a chain saw. You can cut just about any grass with a good pair of bypass hand pruners, but it takes longer than using a machine.
Have you noticed that large clumps of ornamental grass tend to die out in the center? This happens over time because the plant uses up all the food in the soil over time, expanding around the edges where there’s more nourishment. A remedy is to dig out the center and replace it with good soil and fertilizer. We like to scatter some Plant Tone or other dry fertilizer around the root zone of grasses after cutting, to replace the food in the soil.
This might be the time to divide your grasses. Separating them into quarters gives them a fresh start. Big grasses have really tough roots; to cut them into chunks you’ll need a sharp spade. Work the soil, dig nice big planting holes and mix in some fertilizer when you re-plant. In a year or so the transplanted chunks will form neat round clumps.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. To e-mail your landscaping questions click “Contact Us” from their website at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.