Cutting back ornamental grasses

Fri. Mar. 11, 2016

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Cutting back ornamental grasses

Oh boy, you know Spring is on the way when it’s time to get out there and start cutting back those ornamental grasses.  They’re really looking pretty winter weary by now.

Late winter grasses
Late winter grasses

All warm season grasses such as Miscanthus, switchgrass, big and little bluestem, prairie dropseed and Indian grass die back at the crown of the plant.  Don’t worry about cutting them back too low. Their buds are at the root-shoot junction which is often buried in the soil.

Tie large tops together to make them easier to cut. These grasses are slow to green up in the spring, so you have a few weeks to do the cut back.  Cool season grasses however such as feather reedgrass (Calamagrostis), blue oat grass, blue fescue, tufted harigrass (Deschampsia), most Carex, or sedges will start to grow as soon as temperatures warm in the spring.

grass ready for trimming

I use loppers to trim these back but you can use pruners, hedge trimmer, scythe [if there’s room].  Even a lawn mower, depending on the grass AND how wet the area is.  If it’s still spongy, don’t run a heavy mower over it.

Using loppers to cut back ornamental grass
Using loppers to cut back ornamental grass – it really does work much better when you’ve tied the clump together and then lop! 


luscious green growth
luscious green growth

A good rule of thumb for grass cut back is: if its brown cut it down. Spring cut back opens up the crown of the plant to rain and sunlight, allowing it to green up faster. Grass tops decompose quickly in the compost pile, if necessary cut the taller stems into half or 1/3 to fit into your pile.

Prairie Dropseed
Prairie Dropseed

dropseed cut back


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