Spring is right around the corner, thank goodness after this latest blast of ice and snow (although we may have a little more to endure this week). Early bloomers like the Redbuds have come and gone already and the Pear Trees are fully budding out ready to bloom. Now it's time to give your ornamental grasses their spring haircut or rather pruning, to get them off to a great spring start and ready for their full glory in the summer.
Cutting back ornamental grasses in the spring is a great way to trim off the old growth, clean up their look a bit and give them a jump start to flushing out new growth. Some of the larger ornamental grasses such as Maiden Hair Grass (Miscanthus sinensis), Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') or Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia Capillaris) dormant over the winter and have taller, blooms and growth that have browned and need to be cut down. Using clippers or hedge shears, cut off the upper growth and trim them down to a clump (approx. 12-18") high off the ground. Then clean out any of the loose grass with your hands or using a rake with smaller tines. This create a nice shot clump that will allow the sun to reach more of the plant and you will begin to see new growth sprouting from the top.
Even lower, mounding shaped grasses such as Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima) or Sweetflag (Acorus calamus) can use a trimming. Traditional groundcovers such as Monkey Grass (Liriope muscari 'Big Blue') and Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicum) can also benefit in the same way by being trimmed back. Although maybe a little drastic, we have even seen these trimmed back with a mower on a tall setting if you have a large area. If you have a gardener or lawn maintenance staff, ask them about their preference and experience with this method for best results.
Now, there are some that may take a different opinion and choose to leave the dormant growth. This is definitely encouraged through the winter as their blooms can often create a striking look during the winter months. A couple of the great masters at using ornamental grasses was the late, great team of Landscape Architects James Van Sweden and Wofgang Oehme, who some would say helped spark the use and popularity of ornamental grasses with his dramatic designs and notable collection of books. See below for a couple of our favorites.
No matter your preference, cutting back your ornamental grasses is a healthy practice for your plan and will insure you get a beautiful, flowing plant of grass come summer and fall.