Big grasses' spring cutback

BundlCutGras6111s.jpgWe no longer plant many maiden grasses (Miscanthus varieties). It's just too much work to keep after them, dividing them every 3 or 4 years. 

We've told you this before: Divide them frequently or be prepared to invest hours of work with pry-bars, a back-hoe or dynamite to lift an older grass out of the ground so you can split it.

We plant instead:
• Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium),
• feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora),
• prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis),
• purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) and
others that put up less fight at division time and can stay in place longer without becoming monsters.

Maiden grass also got onto our bad side by scratching. The leaf edges are serrated and leave tiny scratches on our arms and faces.


This page is Sponsored by:

We prebundle big grasses.

• Start by tying off to a handful of stalks within a foot of the bottom.

• Use strong cord of biodegradable material, not plastic or nylon because you'll leave it in place and you don't want waste pickup crews to reject the bundle.

BundlCutGras6114s.jpg BundlCutGras6119s.jpg

• Hold the twine and unroll it as you walk around the plant.

• Cinch in the cord as you go.

• Spiral up as you go, pull tighter all the time.

• Tie the top end of  the cord to a lower loop when the bundle seems as tight as you can make it.


• Then cut the stalks at ground
      level. Use:
   - hand pruners (calls for strong
      hands), or
   - loppers (better; you use
      upper body strength), or
   - a power brush trimmer
      (looks like a small buzz-saw
      at the end of a rod) or
   - a strong electric hedge
      trimmer (what Janet's
      using here).


Cut as close to the ground as possible. If you can't cut close to begin with, go back over the stubble to shorten it. We know you see landscape crews and even professional horticulturists cut to leave foot-high clumps, but that's the result of necessary haste, misinformation or inexperience. That stubble shades potential new buds which eventually die, and that accelerates the dead-center syndrome.




If some year you miss the prime grass-cutting season and the grass you plan to cut has already sprouted, cut it anyway. Shave off the new growth with the old. Fresh blades will appear. Otherwise, resolve to put up with the sight of dead culms sticking out all over for the year or allow yourself a few hours to sort the stalks so you can cut the old while leaving the new.

Alternative to dividing a big grass

Don't want to dig up a big grass that needs dividing, but hate its dead-center doughnut appearance? Here's an option to dividing, demonstrated on a pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana, zones 8-10) and applicable to maiden grass (Miscanthus), ravenna grass and others.

• First, cut the grass low.

• Then pull and cut to remove the dead grass from the plant's center. This is very tough at first but increasingly easy once you break through to the soil below. In the photo at left, below, we've cleared the center, which added up to two five-gallon buckets of debris.

• Now dig into the center to loosen the soil there and add new soil or compost. Add an amount equal to the debris you removed.

• Finally, pry one or several young divisions from the outer edge of the clump. Choose the liveliest based on root density, such as the one on the right of the pair Janet's holding (below, right). Plant those into the renewed center.

RenewGrass6207s.jpg RenewGrass6213s.jpg


Wishing for more power over grasses

For those who seek power options we can offer only the power post hole digger in place of digging out the old center. Let us know how it works for you; we didn't think it was enough of a reduction in work to justify the cost of renting the machine.

 Last word: To be fair, it isn't only the grasses that can be overwhelming when it comes to division. There was the battle with the sweet flag, an Acorus... you can download What's Coming Up 63 to and check page 9 for more about beating those big clumps.




























Mary Fizzell

For more Sponsor-recommended pages...

You can Sponsor us, too!