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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Cutting Back and Dividing Ornamental Grasses -Preparing For Spring
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