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Trimming Ornamental Grasses

I have a weakness for Ornamental Grass.  They look good as a single plant swaying in the breeze and are stunning in mass plantings. 

They do require annual trimming to look their best.  I usually leave mine untrimmed until the first of February since I like the straw color and winter interest they create.  There are many different tools that can be used and it depends upon what you are most comfortable with and the type of grass you are trimming.

The goal is to cut the grass down to the correct height.  A grass that grows to 3’ or under should be cut back to a height of 3 inches and taller grasses should be cut to 6 inches.  If you cut too low, you risk cutting into the crown of the plant which can result in loss of clumps throughout the plant.

Dress for the jobwear a long-sleeved shirt and gloves so the grass blades don’t irritate your skin.

Tools for the job

  • Hand pruners
  • Hedge shears
  • Bow saw
  • Powered hedge trimmers
  • Bungee cord or twine
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Chain Saw
  • Weed eater with a brush blade

You won’t need all of these – remember, I said there were several methods, and each has its preferred tools.  You can choose the one(s) you are most comfortable working with and gives you the best results.

Helpful Hint Gather the grass like a big ponytail and wrap the bungee cord around the clump.  The grass will stay bundled as you trim and not scatter everywhere. This also makes cleanup so much easier since you can dispose of the cut clump as one large piece instead of hundreds of blades.

Start Trimming Use the cutting tool(s) of your choice to cut through the grass. The large, established grasses may require more than pruning shears – this is where the power tools such as the weed eater with a blade or powered hedge trimmers or even a chain saw for Pampas grass is necessary. It is helpful to have a friend hold up the clump so it doesn’t fall on you as you cut.

Neatening Up After the main clump has been cut and disposed of then finish up by making the cut uniform.  You many want to spread a fresh layer of mulch to cover up the many fine pieces of the grass blades that are scattered about. 

Now your grass is ready for spring.

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Prepping Perennials for Spring

We suggest cleaning up your perennials in the fall or late winter to prepare them for their debut in spring.  Doing so prior to new growth appearing will ensure the plants look and perform their best.

Many perennials die back after the first hard freeze and seem to just disappear. (Day lilies, Canas, etc.)  Other varieties that are more woody based may only partially die back and if not pruned become rangy and unattractive as new growth appears. (Lantana, Salvia Greggii) 

Ornamental grass needs trimming yearly before the growing season begins.  Liriope and some vining ground covers will also require trimming.

How to trim:

  • The softer, tender perennials that died down after the first freeze shouldn’t require trimming, just a clean up of the area. 
  • Those woody based perennials should be cut back to 6-10 inches high.  They will grow fuller and become more compact plants without all of the old woody growth. 
  • Cut back your liriope and mondo grass to 2-3 inches tall.  You can use your lawn mower set on a high setting or a weed eater to make the job easier.  Make sure to do this early – late trimming will cause ragged tips on the new foliage.
  • The toughest job is trimming ornamental grasses and this is covered in a separate article

This is also the best time to divide summer and fall blooming perennials.  Dig the clumps and use a sharp knife to cut them into sections for replanting in the garden at the same depth they were growing. 

Late winter is also a good time to move perennials to a new location.  If a plant is in the wrong spot due to needing more or less sun/shade or requires better draining soil or grows to large for the area, then move it. 

As the perennials begin to grow in spring, give them some fertilizer.  This will boost their growth and increase blooms.

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