Ornamental grass should be cut sooner

I would like to know how to care for my hardy pampas and dwarf pampas grass for the winter. Also, can the “feathers” be used for decoration in the home?

— Jean

Taking care of any ornamental grass is pretty easy. The main thing you have to do is to cut the brown, dead foliage down sometime before spring. Many people leave the foliage on their plant through the winter as it adds some texture and interest to an otherwise bland winter landscape. However, if you want to get out in the yard and just get things cleaned up, it’s OK to cut the foliage back this fall. Just make sure that the foliage is dried before you cut it back.

If you decide to wait until next spring to do the cutting, be sure to do it early before the new shoots of grass begin to emerge. I’d figure on getting it done before the end of March. If the grass has started to sprout when you cut it back, you’ll cut off the new shoots and those cut ends will turn brown, giving your grass an unkempt, ratty appearance (at least temporarily).

One trick in cutting back most ornamental grasses that I’ve learned is to tie up the foliage with some twine before cutting. You’ll end up with some funny-looking “ponytail” looking affairs. Tie the grass tightly so the bundle doesn’t fall apart. I then use a regular wood crosscut saw to cut the foliage off. You can use pruning shears, but it’s a lot of work and believe me, your hand will feel it when you’re done. The saw makes the job much easier and once it’s cut off, the old grass is already bundled up for disposal — no raking or clean-up needed.

The seed plumes are great to use in dried arrangements or other decorations. You’ll want to spray the plume with some spray acrylic to hold the plume together. If you don’t, the seeds can come off and make a mess.

 

I’d like to grow Hameln Dwarf Fountain Grass in containers. Could I grow it on my balcony in containers that are 17 inches across? Can it stand direct summer sun in the afternoon?

— Sally

 

I think it would work fine in something like that. Keep in mind that whenever you grow something in a container, you run a higher risk of losing the plant to the cold over the winter. The reason for this is that the roots of plants aren’t as hardy as the tops of the plant. A plant might be cold hardy down to 20 below zero, but the roots will die at 20 above zero. Normally, that isn’t a worry with the plant in the ground because the mass of the soil tends to buffer those dips of very cold temperatures. However, in a pot surrounded by the cold air, it can get cold enough sometimes to damage or even kill the plant. This isn’t a huge risk; I just want you to be aware of it. You can give your plant the most protection by pulling the pot up against the house so that the warmth there can moderate those frigid winter temperatures.

One other thing to be aware of is that you’ll have to water the plant occasionally throughout the winter. Figure on soaking it once every three weeks or so, depending on the weather (more often if it’s unseasonably warm and dry, less if it’s very cold and damp). The only problem with this is that sometimes you can crack the pot your plant is in. When water freezes, it expands and ceramic or clay pots can break. You’re safest to use plastic, concrete or wooden containers.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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