Ornamental grass varieties are a great addition to any landscape – providing color, texture, and beauty the year round. 

The fresh, bright and wispy growth give way to gorgeous shades of green, red and purple each fall, only to be heightened with stunning feathery blooms shooting up to the sky.  

ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses add a great backdrop for the full-blown color of annuals like this hanging basket

As the cold sets in, ornamental grasses add a whole new look to the winter landscape – all the while providing great cover and nesting materials to all types of wildlife.

Almost all ornamental grass varieties are highly resistant to both drought and disease, while being one of the fastest growing and most cost-effective “space-filling” landscape plants you can find. They can quickly grow to create everything from a “live” privacy fence, to a beautiful large focal point in a once barren landscape.

Adding to it all, grasses are extremely easy to maintain – and by following a few simple steps each Spring – you can not only enjoy years and years of beauty – but can create plenty of new plants from your current grass clumps to use all over your landscape – for free!

Ornamental Grass Care

When And How To Cut Back

Although ornamental grasses can be cut back in the fall – late winter and early spring are the better choice to allow the plants to help out the winter wildlife. Early spring is the best time to divide old clumps into new starts before new growth has started.

Cutting grasses back to about 12 to 18" high keeps a little interest in your early spring flower beds
Cutting grasses back to about 12 to 18″ high keeps a little interest in your early spring flower beds

We use a battery powered Porter Cable reciprocating saw with a  12″ construction blade that makes quick work of cutting back the dead grass.  Hand shears, hedge trimmers and even chain saws can work as well – the chain saws are especially handy for some of the large mountain style grass clumps that can grow to 10 feet or more.

Although you can cut grasses back all the way to ground level, we like to cut our clumps to about 12 to 18″ high. This not only keeps a little bit of interest in the landscape, but gives a good strong base for the new grass to anchor to as it grows up through the plant.

The dead plant material is a great source of material to add to your compost pile – but be sure to chop it up before adding to speed decomposition (See: How To Create A Compost Pile)

And to answer a question we seem to get every year – you can burn the grasses down in liue of cutting them back. It goes without saying that burning back grasses that are near any type of structure is asking for disaster – and that extreme caution should be used with any open burning.

Dividing Old Grass Clumps To Form New Plants:

If those grasses have become a bit large, or if you are looking to add more plants to your landscape  – springtime is the time to divide your grasses!  

Maiden grass shooting up beautiful plumes last fall at the farm
Maiden grass shooting up beautiful plumes last fall at the farm

Ornamental grasses grow from the inside out – meaning that new growth will always be on the outside ring of the plant. You may notice if you have old clumps that the middle area has all but died out, and this is a direct result of the inside out growth process.  

When digging up to downsize or create new plants – dig up the entire ball of grass and only replant a section of the new outer growth to create your new plant or plants. That inside middle “dead” portion can also be split up and added to the compost pile.  You can create quite a few “new” plants from an old clump – and a sharp shovel or the reciprocating saw will again make quick work of the chore.

We have hundreds of ornamental grasses at our little farm now – and all were created for free from this process of splitting. For more on how to split – you can view the graphic included at the bottom taking you through the entire process step by step.

So get out in the landscape, cut back, divide and replant those grasses while you can!

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Happy Gardening! – Jim and Mary

how to ornamental grass

 

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