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Cutting Back, Dividing and Preparing Ornamental Grasses For Spring

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

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

Those same grasses can catch the beauty of a winter snow

Those same grasses catching the beauty of a winter snow

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 : Planting And Dividing Ornamental Grasses.

With the grasses all cut back now – we are hoping that we can turn our focus to building the new chicken coop…after all, the new baby chicks will be arriving in a few weeks, and we need bigger living quarters for the soon to be expanded flock!

Here’s to Spring!  – Mary and Jim

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21 Comments on Cutting Back, Dividing and Preparing Ornamental Grasses For Spring

  1. Iva martin // March 4, 2014 at 9:40 am // Reply

    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?

    • 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.

  2. 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!

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