Trim your ornamental grass back now for spring growth
CARTHAGE, Mo. – Southwest Missouri landscapes would be diminished without ornamental grasses, but by now they’re likely looking a bit rough as the elements take a toll. Alas, time to get out your hedge clippers and get to work whacking back last year’s growth.
Species such as Revenna Grass (Erianthus ravennae), Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), and Plume Grass (Miscanthus species) create fall and winter color and the wind-driven motion can create interest in an otherwise stark wintery landscape.
“Depending on the amount of snow, wind, and driving rain we have in southwest Missouri, the plumes can lose their delicate characteristics as winter wears on,” says Robert Balek, horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Grasses should be cut back whenever they become ragged in appearance. However, all ornamental grasses need to be cut back in late winter even if they appear to remain in good shape. Cutting back grasses is essential to provide growing space for new foliage and plumes for the coming year, advises Balek. Removing dead foliage and stems gives the new growth a clean and green appearance at the start of the new season. Some might even say a head start compared with plants that don’t get a haircut until early springtime.
The task of cutting back ornamental grasses in the landscape can be messy and labor intensive. But Balek says there is one method that can be used to minimize mess and save time. First, find a length of biodegradable twine, at least four feet long. Tie a loop at one end. Place the twine around the base of the clump and put the end through the loop, like a lasso.
Slide the lasso up the clump about half way, bundling the leaves and stems as much as possible. Cinch the twine tightly around the clump, and tie it off there.
Use a sharp tool such as power trimmers or hand pruners to cut the clump three to four inches above the ground. String trimmers are seldom sharp enough to cut the clump, and fragments of dried leaves and stems scatter in the breeze, making clean-up a decidedly unpleasant task.
“Leaving stubble in place protects the new season’s growth from late freezes and keeps it physically sheltered during the fresh growth stage,” says Balek. Remove the clump, keeping it tied and intact, and place it in the compost pile if you have one, or haul to the leaf disposal site if you don’t. Even in the compost pile, It is a good idea to keep the twine in place to prevent the grass from blowing about and cluttering your landscape. Just remember there are local ordinances in many communities that ban burning, and dry straw is highly dangerous to burn anywhere when the wind blows.
“If applying fresh mulch around the ornamental grasses in spring, use the stubble as a reminder that the grass is there, and avoid covering the plant with mulch,” adds Balek.
For more information, contact one of MU Extension’s horticulture specialists or educators in southwest Missouri: Patrick Byers in Greene County at (417) 881-8909, Kelly McGowan in Greene County at (417) 881-8909 or Robert Balek in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158.