Timing is important when cutting ornamental grasses

Timing is important when cutting ornamental grasses

Every day I drive home, I encounter the neglect of the landscape. Admittedly, I didn’t cut my ornamental grasses this spring.

At a pool party on Memorial Day, the conversation turned to neighbors who aren’t cutting their lawns. Everyone agreed that uncut ornamental grasses drove them crazy. I slid into my patio chair and gave my wife a look that said, “Don’t give up on me!”

Why are untrimmed ornamental grasses on my conscience so much? It’s just a few herbs, right? Well, the previous owner of our house must have loved ornamental grasses, because they are everywhere in my garden. No matter where you look now, you’ll find half-green, half-tan clumps of tall grass.
I have done a better job managing these weeds over the past few springs we have had them at our house. One year, I borrowed a hedge trimmer from a friend, tied the weeds into a bundle, and cut off the base of the plant. The package is easy to carry and makes cleaning easy. The next year I burned all the grass.
That was more exciting, but if you’ve never burned prairie or grassland before, these fires burn quickly and intensely. Maybe you accidentally burned part of the neighbor’s garden. (I apologized.) What’s the hang up this year? In recent months, I’ve found myself either in the office or on the baseball field helping coach two minor league teams. The herbs will have to wait.
So what happens to the grass if we don’t cut it again in the spring? nothing. Does not affect the overall health of the grass. In fact, once the new green leaf blades grow, they will hide last year’s leaves. Aside from the brown seed heads that highlight the green growth, you won’t even notice it.
Leaving ornamental grasses standing over the winter helps protect the plant’s growing points at the soil line from extreme cold temperatures. Grasses and stems of other herbaceous plants also serve as habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators.
You might also argue that it’s okay to let down the old growth every year. However, the buildup of dead grass material can cause problems in the long term. Removing this old growth can be helpful in getting rid of debris and mimicking the fire that created the vast North American prairies where many of our ornamental grasses evolved.

At this point in early June, do I plan to do anything with my ornamental grasses? I might take a pair of scissors and remove the more annoying seed heads from last year. I also have plans to dig up some of the grasses and replace them with some woody shrubs and perennials. Cutting it back now at this point is probably not on the cards because they are just coming out of the ugly duckling stage and this will prolong that.
Although I may feel somewhat guilty for not cutting my ornamental grasses, sometimes I remember that imperfections give us a new perspective.
As Yogi Berra said: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

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