Tag Archives: ornamental grasses

How’s Your Pruning Technique?

Cut ornamental grasses back as new growth emerges. Otherwise, you’ll end up with new growth poking out of dead blades, the wrath-of-God look.

As new growth emerges, our fingers often itch to get out in the garden.  Late February/early March is an ideal time to start cutting back ornamental grasses. With perennials, early to mid-March is a good time to prune.

Trimming ornamental grasses is simple, unless you have a huge stand of pampas grass or some such.  For small grasses, such as blue avena, simply use pruners or small hedge clippers to cut the blades down to 4-6 inches above ground.  For larger grasses, wrap a bungee cord or rope around the plant to contain the blades like a pony tail, then use manual or powered hedge clippers or a chain saw below the pony tail to cut the grass back to 6 inches or lower.  Once done, you can simply carry the rubble to your compost pile and remove the bungee cord or rope.  Be sure to wear gloves to avoid cuts.

Make quick work of pruning agastache and other spiky plants by wrapping a bungee cord around the base, then cutting the stalks below the cord.

As for perennials, you can prune them different ways, depending on the individual variety.  For some plants, such as soapwort, it’s often easiest to simply grab a handful of foliage, twist it, and yank it out.  Before you do this forcefully, however, give the plant a gentle tug to make sure you won’t be ripping it out of the ground when pulling on it.  But if you end up ripping out a small, rooted chunk of the plant, you may be able to transplant it elsewhere.

With orange carpet hummingbird and other short plants with stiff dormant twigs, you can often grab a handful of twigs and snap them off.

For taller, stalky perennials such as agastache, you may find it easiest to treat them like a large ornamental grass, wrapping a bungee cord around the stalks before cutting below with hedge clippers.

Otherwise, you can simply cut perennials to the ground with pruners, although it sometimes takes longer than some of the methods mentioned above.

You can prune many shrubs and trees this time of year, as well, using techniques from Colorado State University Extension.

Leave your roses alone, though.  Don’t prune them until late April or early May.  Otherwise, frost might kill new growth that occurs when pruning stimulates roses’ hormones.  For more information on roses, check CSU Extension’s Pruning Roses.

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It’s Time to Cut Back

These grasses may be beautiful, but they need to come down.  Now.

These grasses may be beautiful, but they need to come down. Now.

You’ve enjoyed several months of winter interest from your ornamental grasses, but it’s time to haul out the hedge clippers and/or chainsaw if you live in Colorado and it’s February.  It’s time to cut back.  It may be hard, but if your dead blades and seedheads are still standing when the green blades grow in, your grasses will look just plain weird.  And they won’t be as healthy as they could be.

So, how far should you cut them back?  To about six inches above ground.  You may not be able to cut that low with some of your larger grasses, but get them down to a foot or so if you can.  Cutting back is easier if you tie the grass blades together with a piece of twine.

Once the new growth comes in, it’ll hide the grass stumps.

Happy cutting.

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There’s Movement Afoot in the Garden

Ornamental grasses sway in the summer breeze.

I love movement in a garden.  It adds magic and excitement when butterflies hover around a butterfly bush or branches of a young tree sway in the breeze.

Fortunately there are easy ways to create this kind of stimulation in your own garden.

You can grow plants that undulate in the wind.  Plants with long stems, thin branches or tall blades fall into this category.  These winners include whirling butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri), Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), giant sacaton ornamental grass (Sporobolus wrightii) and ornamental poppies.  The ornamental grasses pictured above stand in a traffic median near a shopping mall.  Although they aren’t labeled, I’m confident that the bluish grass is Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and the grass with golden plumes is Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’).  As for the grass with the red tips, my research suggests that it’s Shenandoah Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’).

The fiery red flowers of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ will bob in the breeze. The plant’s bright blooms and sword-like leaves add drama to the garden even when this beauty isn’t in motion.

You can select plants that attract small creatures, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, to animate your landscape.  Adult butterflies like nectar-rich plants such as bee balm (Monarda), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), blue fortune hybrid hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’). Hummingbirds prefer brightly colored (especially red) plants with tubular flowers including cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, hibiscus (the hardy kind if you want it to last), orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii ‘Orange Carpet), red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and most varieties of agastache.

If you want to go hog-wild with movement, you can even install a fountain with trickling or cascading water.

As for me, I grow many of the plants mentioned above, attracting my share of butterflies and even an occasional hummingbird.  But the main sources of movement in my garden are the amazing cats, Toto the Fluff Ball and Steve the Socialite.

Toto, the fluff ball, adds humor and movement to the garden.

Talk about movement. . .when miller moths are in season, said cats leap through the air, paws extended like soccer players, knocking moths to the ground and devouring them.  As if Iams Original weren’t enough for their nutritional needs.

Steve, the socialite, tidies himself up amid prairie winecups, Callirhoe involucrata, and bleeding hearts, Dicentra spectabilis.

So if you’re looking for movement in the garden, you may enjoy the subtleties of fluttering insects, gently swaying plants and trickling water.  But it you want real excitement, add cats to the mix.

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