Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to take care of your Ornamental grasses: pruning and dividing

With the exception of Pampas grass, I was not a fan of ornamental grasses until I moved to Illinois and realized how beautiful they look over the winter and how it is the only plant that I can see when the white snow covers pretty much everything else. I always thought that ornamental grasses were itchy (which they are) and messy (that too!) but I have learned to appreciate their messiness – they are free and wild and beautiful!!

I have a few ornamental grasses in my house, some around my pond, and some close to the house. The ones by the pond, help us keep the water shady so we do not get too many algae. I am very grateful for that and I am sure the fish are too!

Come Spring, you need to prune your ornamental grasses so the new growth can thrive. You should cut them relatively early in the Spring so you do not accidentally cut the new growth tips. I normally wait until I have a few green things around so I do not get a bare garden.

Pruning ornamental grasses is pretty easy, but I will give you a few tips to make your life easier (remember they are itchy – in fact they can cut you nastily if you are not careful – paper cut like! Ouch! And they are messy). So if you do not want to end up with band aids everywhere and a whole garden full of loose blades of grass, this is what to do:

Cover yourself! Wear gloves and a long sleeve-shirt or even better a fleece. If your ornamental grasses are tall like mine, wear long pants too. Take a piece of wool or a rope and wrap it around the middle of the whole plant – almost like a belt. You may need to wrap it a few times depending on how big your ornamental grass is and the thickness of your rope. Once that is done, take your preferred pruning tool and cut all the blades of grass about 4 to 6 inches from the ground (or as low as you can). I used to do this with small pruning scissors and it took forever! This year I got smarter and bought “real” tools, an electric pruner!!! I can cut those huge ornamental grasses in less than 30 seconds! Success!

As your grass plant is tied together with the rope, you will now have a nice bunch of grass that you can easily transport to your compost pile or brown bag it. Some people do not like putting grasses in their compost as the seeds may start baby grasses everywhere. I have not had that problem, but if you are concerned, do not compost it.

You can now tidy up a bit if you like by raking the extra blades of grass - I did not get to that point yet. Here are some of my other grasses after they were pruned.

This is also a good time to divide the clumps if you want to. Ornamental grasses will grow every year and they may look crowded if you do not divide them. To do so, simple prune the grass first, and then divide according to the size of the plant. For small grasses, you may use a small spade and separate a chunk from the root ball - make sure you dig enough so you get some roots with it. For tall grasses you will need some strength, get your sharpest spade, and take a chunk of the grass out - this is no easy task - good news is that you do not need to do it often or at all if you do not want to.

Now your ornamental grasses are all prune and divided, your fingers are intact and your garden is not a mess! You are welcome!

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