Dividing Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental Grasses add beauty to the landscape year round – here they are in late fall in full plume.

Even though its still cold in the Midwest – this past week was spent caring for our ornamental grasses. They are a big part of our farm’s landscape – and now is the perfect time of the year to not only cut them back, but divide and transplant new starts as well.

Ornamental grasses come in all sizes and shapes, adding vibrant texture and color to the landscape throughout all four seasons.  They require little care, are extremely drought tolerant, and can be used as the centerpiece or accent plants in flowerbeds. They can also be an extremely inexpensive way to landscape large areas, dividing a few existing plants into enough to fill a whole bed.

In just a few short years – we now have a little over 250 ornamental grasses in the landscape – grown from just 10 original plants from 5 different varieties.  We have grown and planted all for free – transplanting and dividing grasses from friends, family and our own home landscape.

Although many people cut them back in the fall – we leave our ornamental grasses up throughout the winter.  It provides texture to the winter landscape, especially when snow or ice coat their tall spikes.  Of even more importance, it’s a great refuge for birds and other wildlife that stay around through the cold winter months, providing them with wind breaks and easy-to-find nesting materials.

We use a reciprocating saw to cut the grasses off about 3 to 5" above the ground.
We use a reciprocating saw to cut the grasses off about 3 to 5″ above the ground.

However, once spring starts knocking on the door in late February and early March,  we begin the simple process of cutting back and dividing.  

There are several ways to cut back ornamental grasses – but one of the easiest methods we have found is to use our reciprocating saw.  Yes, it’s good for more than just tearing apart pallets! :). We use a long  12” construction blade that makes quick work of cutting the grasses back, slicing through with a sharp clean cut.  

As a good rule of thumb, we cut ours back about 3″ to 5″ off the ground – leaving a little added support for the new grass as it sprouts up later in the spring.

We used 100% free ornamental grass transplants and perennials to landscape the barn patio area.  Here is how the area looked right after transplanting.
transplants by year end
By the end of last year- they had filled in beautifully –  adding texture and color to the hillside.  These should get big enough this year to grow into a nice privacy row.

As for what we do with the cut grass trimmings? Ornamental grass clippings are always one of the hardest materials we have found to compost in our piles.  They don’t seem to chop well in our shredder, and they can take forever to break down.  We speed the process up by piling them up in an open area, lighting them with a single match,  and adding the resulting ashes to our compost bin once they have cooled down.

Once your grasses are cut back, its a great time to divide them to get extra plants for your landscape. From a typical 2 to 3 year old plant, we can get as many as 6 to 10 new plants.   For those that want more information on the how to’s of dividing ornamental grasses, we  have a complete tutorial that can be found here : Dividing and Planting Ornamental Grasses.

Here’s to Spring!  – Mary and Jim

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25 thoughts on “Cutting Back and Dividing Ornamental Grasses -Preparing For Spring

  • April 28, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Grass is meant to be burned. I do it every Feb and have great results. Native Americans used to set the plains afire to ensure good healthy grass.

  • June 28, 2015 at 10:28 am

    what ornamental grass would you recommend for a perennial garden? I don’t know much about ornamental grasses and I want to start planting one. please advise, thanks!


  • May 23, 2015 at 11:04 am

    I have planted different kinds of grasses in 3 years. One year i put mulch around them and the next i did not. But none have surrvived the winter. Help whatam i doing wrong.

  • March 4, 2014 at 9:40 am

    My daughter bought a house last summer. there is a row of grass that needs to be taken out. Is there an easy way to kill/remove it?

    • March 4, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Iva – The first thing to do is to cut it back and remove the grass to get down to the original stocks. Once you have done that – you can simply dig around each stock and pop out of the ground. That is really the only way to completely remove it. Depending on how long they have been there – most of the interior portions of each clump are probably dead – and new growth will be on the outside.

  • February 25, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I wonder if you have pictures, examples of types and names? I’ve planted several last fall that I found on sale at the end of the season. Since then friends have shared seeds with me….and I’m unsure of what size they will grow to so I can place them around the yard. They are so showy! Thank you for this interesting post!

  • April 15, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Do you happen to be growing lemon grass? If so, it is more than just ornamental. Steep some in hot water just as you would any herb to make tea. Add honey, and you have a very delicious and nutritious tea! I just planted some for that purpose as well as for scent in homemade soap.

    I enjoy your weekly posts that are so practical and to the point. Thanks for all you share with us.

    • April 17, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Thanks for the tip Rose Petal – we do not but it is something I would like to add! Thanks you for the kind words as well 🙂

  • February 24, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Love your blog! I went out this afternoon and did just what you suggested here. You are so inspiring!

    • February 26, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      Wow – thank you so much!!!! Glad you like the blog! Jim

  • February 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Every winter, I light them on fire. They burn very quickly. I like to do this when there is snow,hot ashes make me nervous! I tend to do it early in the winter, the grass breaks and blows all over my property. Drives me crazy!

    • February 26, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      That’s a good way to make sure nothing catches on fire! I bet its a pretty neat picture with the flames and the snow.

  • February 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    For cutting back grasses, if you tie a piece of rope around th

  • February 24, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Never thought to burn them…. I will try that when I cut them down next month. Thanks for the info. Found you at Lisa Lynn’s blog hop. ~ Sue

    • February 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      Make sure they are very far away from anything combustible. I saw some vinyl siding on a house that will need to be replaced due to melting! 6 feet was not far enough away!

  • February 24, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I have had absolutely no luck with ornamental grasses on the west side of my house. I had wanted to spruce up the corner where the house/fence met and hide the utility meter. I have black paper and river rock in the area and all my hosts do well (the knockout roses not as much due to the neighbors crab apple tree). Can you suggest a type of ornamental to use? Any other suggestions?

    • February 24, 2013 at 11:08 am

      How much sun does the area get on an average day?

  • February 24, 2013 at 8:39 am

    such an excellent blog! Concise, exciting, and so informative. If the opportunity ever arises it might be interesting to see if you could predigest those cut grass stalks with oyster mushrooms before adding to compost.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • February 24, 2013 at 11:06 am

      That’s a good thought – we may have to give it a try. Thanks so much for the kind words about the blog!

  • February 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

    This year I cut mine down in the fall but thought that in the future I might just light them up while snow is on the ground as they are far away from everything anyway. It would be a lot easier than cutting!

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