How to Care for Ornamental Grasses Through the Seasons
These tough perennials don't need much maintenance; just a few simple steps will keep them looking their best year after year.
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If you don't have a ton of time to maintain your garden, ornamental grasses make the perfect plant choice for filling out your landscape. They look beautiful almost year-round, thanks to their graceful foliage and eye-catching seed heads. Most species aren't picky about soil, though they appreciate good drainage (like most plants do). Plus, ornamental grasses can be fairly drought-tolerant and usually aren't bothered by garden pests (even deer will avoid most of them). While they don't need much to thrive, they do need a little upkeep every now and then. Follow these tips to keep your ornamental grasses healthy year after year.
When to Plant Ornamental Grasses
The best time for planting perennial grasses is in the spring or fall. Choose a site with well-drained soil and full sun (many grasses need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day). Some warm-season grasses will do better if planted in the spring to allow the growing season to establish a good root system prior to winter.
Leave your grasses standing through winter, then cut them back in spring before the new growth gets going. That way you can have a fourth season of enjoyment from your grasses. Leaving up the seed heads may also attract hungry birds in winter.
How to Cut Back Ornamental Grasses
A sturdy pair of handheld shears work well for pruning smaller grasses. Use electric hedge trimmers for larger grasses or where the clumps have grown very dense. Cut off the dead foliage from last season 3-5 inches from the ground. Another advantage of using hedge trimmers is that it will give you an even cut all the way across a clump of grass. Use a hedge trimmer that's an inch or two longer than your clump of grass is wide, and you'll be able to cut the entire bunch back at once.
How to Divide Ornamental Grasses
After a few years in the garden, even slower-growing grasses may outgrow their intended space. Some grasses also start to thin out in the center, which is a sure sign it's time to divide them. Plus, then you'll have additional plants to spread around the garden or give to neighbors.
Divide grasses in early spring before the plant has put on much new growth. Start by shearing off last year's growth, if you haven't already. Using your spade, slice into the soil about an inch or so away from the clump. Then make a slice straight down through the clump to portion off a piece. Lift out this portion of the clump, roots and all. Plant the new piece as soon as possible and fill in the hole you left by the parent plant with a mix of compost and soil.