Homegrown: Pampas, willow clippings

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 the plant starts resprouting in the 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 in the fall. Just make sure the foliage is dried up before you cut it back.

If you decide to wait until next spring to do the cutting, be sure to do it early and before the new shoots of grass begin to emerge. I suggest 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. Otherwise you’ll end up with some funny-looking “ponytail” affairs.

Tie the grass tightly so the bundle doesn’t fall apart. Then use a regular wood crosscut saw to cut the foliage off below the twine.

You can use pruning shears, but it is a lot of work, and believe me, your hands will feel it when you’re done.

The saw makes the job much easier and, once it is cut off, the old grass is already bundled for disposal. No raking or cleanup needed.

The seed plumes are great to use in dried arrangements or other decorations. You may 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 in the house.

I was up on Grand Mesa a couple of weeks ago and snipped a few small branches of the bright red and bright yellow twigs that I think are a willow. I took the twigs home and put them in some water to enjoy the color and force the catkins/leaves.

To my surprise they put out lots of roots. I planted them in a small pot.

Assuming they survive, will they grow down here in the valley? I have a drip irrigation system so I could give them lots of water. — Teri

You’re right, you have willow cuttings. They tend to root quite easily.

As you mentioned, they do like regular watering, so if you put them in a spot where they can be watered regularly (figure a good soaking once a week once they’re established), they should grow fine in your yard.

The common willow that grows here is coyote willow (Salix exigua). It usually grows at up to about 9,500 feet in elevation.

The young stems are usually a red to rust color and quite ornamental. Be a little careful, as they can sucker and spread into areas of your yard where you may not want them.

Two other species that generally occur at higher elevations are scouler willow (S. scouleriana) and bebb Wwllow (S. bebbiana).

Though there is some color to the twigs of these species, it usually isn’t as bright as that of coyote willow.

Once they’ve put on a little size and more leaves, you could bring several in to us and we could try to identify exactly which species you have.

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

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