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Cut Back Ornamental Grasses

In our area, ornamental grasses are the plants of choice for winter color and a break from the sea of white that surrounds them. Birds like these grasses for the yummy seeds they produce. Beyond that, these plants are virtually forgotten. In the other seasons of the year, their green blends in with the other green plants and the colorful flowers of spring overshadow these hardy workhorses.

Ornamental grasses are relatively maintenance free. However, they have one annual need that is essential to their health and good growth. That maintenance procedure? They have to be cut back every spring, and now is the time to cut them back.

The brown sheaths of grass you see above the snow each winter is actually dead – or more accurately, spent. Last spring, those sheaths were nice and green as they grew to their extended height. Seedheads then formed on the tips and the mature seeds dropped to the ground. So, you are actually making way for new growth when you cut them back.

Grasses should be cut back to just inches from the ground. The tool you use is up to you. I’ve used manual hedge clippers, electric hedge clippers and even pruning shears. If the snow pack has caused the grasses to flop over, tie them back upright with rope or twine before cutting them.

Don’t wait too long to cut your ornamental grasses back or you may cut off some new growth. You may not be able to see new growth through the old growth, but small green leaves are starting to push up through the old sheaths. Once trimmed, you’ll be able to see the new growth in the remaining stubble.

One footnote. The reason I’ve used manual hedge trimmers is that I received a pair of ratchet shears as a gift, and cutting ornamental grass with them is like cutting butter. Although I don’t promote specific brands of tools here, mine are the brand that’s orange and black.

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