published Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Warm weather has plants on fast track this spring

Q: Is it too late to cut back my monkey grass?

A: Carefully inspect your liriope, sometimes called monkey grass, or its relatives like mondo grass or tall liriope. If you pull back the foliage on your plants and see bright green new tips, you have a problem.

Most gardeners trim their monkey grass by mowing with the grass mower set high, or they use their weed eater or hedge trimmers. The trick to clearing out old foliage without injuring new growth is that you must cut before new growth emerges.

If bright, green growth is showing, a cut at this point may remove those new tips, and every little leaf will have cut brown edges all summer. This is not an attractive prospect.

Once the foliage has started to emerge, the blunt force of the weedeater is too destructive for the new leaves. If you see growth, weedeaters are out, since they will surely damage the growing tips.

To trim plants with growth, set your mower blades as high as they will go and mow the plants and hope for the best.

You can use hedge trimmers, either electric or gas-powered ones, very carefully. This is hard to do, especially if your liriope has been flattened against the ground by heavy rains. Try using a leaf rake to stand it up.

Or you can try handheld hedge trimmers to cut monkey grass, but this is a painstaking effort of lifting the old foliage and clipping it off.

Many gardeners only trim their liriope back every second or third year. It is not necessary for the health of the plant to trim back very year. This may be the year that you accept a scruffier-looking liriope bed and hope that the weather is more predictable next year.

Record-setting warm temperatures have caught many gardeners by surprise, and no wonder. We are barely beyond mid-March, yet our plants are behaving as if it is almost May 1 and time to plant annuals.

Lots of gardeners have missed our regular timetables, such as putting out pre-emergent weed preventers just as the forsythia buds are ready to open. At this point, most of the forsythia has bloomed and the annual weeds are well above ground.

It would be interesting if all the local gardeners would keep a record of the bloom times of various plants this year. The plants may be setting records as striking as the temperatures.

Email Pat Lea at lea.pat@gmail.com.

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