Ornamental Grasses – How and When To Cut Them Back


For those of you that have ornamental grasses in your landscape this is a reminder to cut them back before the new growth emerges from the base in spring.

The picture illustrates what happens when the old growth is not cut back. Notice how the new green growth has grown up into the old. Now it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to cut out the old growth and not damage the new.

I happen to like the straw-like look of the ornamental grasses during the winter and therefore, leave them standing. Some folks don’t like that look or are just indifferent and they may choose to just cut them down during the fall clean-up process.

Whatever your choice might be, there are a few ways to cut them and this might depend on the type of ornamental grasses and what condition they’re in. For example, is the old growth dry & brittle or soft & pliable? I find it best to be prepared with a few of the tools I mention so you can experiment for the most effective one.

Often I use a manual hand shear and that does a fine job with a little effort. Come on, a little huff and puffin’ is good for everybody!

I’ll even use my bypass hand pruner in a pinch and that works fine if you grab a bunch of strands with one hand and cut with the other. This is the method I used to “prune-out” the old, brown growth from the new growth in the first picture.

For the power tool lovers there’s the electric or gas power-shears that can make quick work out of a bunch of ornamental grasses.

Hey, I know some contractors who pull out the chainsaws to do the job and you know what?…for some tall, thick, tough grasses (e.g. Miscanthus) they work great.

Always remember a dull tool is hard to work with and very dangerous. Of course you must be equally careful with a sharp tool, but sharp tools will do the task with predictability.  Just keep your eye on the cutting part of the tool at all times.

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    One Response to “Ornamental Grasses – How and When To Cut Them Back”

    1. Cornelia Says:

      Hi Roger,
      A comment: A friend told me that the size of ornamental grass clumps can be controlled by burning the stalks in late winter. This sounds like a great solution and I’m eager to try it. We dug and divided our grasses about 8 years ago. It was a nightmare. Axes and chainsaws were used. I’d rather get rid of the grass than do that again!
      I love your posts and am always getting ideas and solving problems with your help.
      Thank you!

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