When I was a kid, grass meant a lawn and grass care meant dragging the lawnmower out every other week. In today’s gardens, ornamental grasses are becoming increasingly popular for their deer resistance and water-wise qualities, as well as for creating movement with a strong visual impact. Ornamental grasses require far less care than a lawn and no mower is required. The two main ways to care for ornamental grasses are periodic combing and, depending on the variety, an annual prune.
Ornamental grasses can be broken down into cool- or warm-season plants depending on if they bloom in the summer or fall and by the time of year it does most of its growing. If you’re like me, you probably aren’t paying close enough attention or might not be certain of the grass variety. I use this simple shortcut to figure out my grass care: Does the grass go brown and dormant, or does it stay evergreen? Yes, it is that simple.
If your grasses are small and go dormant in the fall, they are warm season and deciduous, so you have a choice. You can prune them after they go brown in late fall or you can prune them in early spring before new growth starts to appear. If you leave them through the winter, they provide seed for birds to feed upon. In areas of high fire danger, it is more sensible to prune them after they go brown. When you decide it is time, use pruners or hedging shears to cut the grasses down to a height of 3 inches if the grass stays under 3 feet tall. Trim to a height of 6 inches for varieties that grow above 3 feet tall.
Pruning large dormant grasses is a similar process to the smaller deciduous grasses. You can choose to enjoy the winter interest of the dried foliage, but be sure to prune before the new growth starts to avoid cutting new fresh growth tips. You may also choose to prune in late fall if you live in an area of high fire danger. Big grasses make a big mess, and they also have sharp leaves so be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves when pruning. Wrap a rope, bungee cord or even masking tape around the outside of the grass to form a tight bundle; this not only helps with cleanup but also makes the job of pruning easier. Use hedging shears to cut grass to a height of 10 inches.
MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL, JAMES CAMPBELL, FEBRUARY 11, 2019