Q. I have fairly new ornamental grasses. They look ragged right now. Can I cut them back or move them, and how do you do it?
A. Ornamental grasses can add a graceful softness to full sun plantings and they require very little maintenance. They do need to be cut back once a year, and you are right, this is the time to do it. Ornamental grasses, like maiden grass and Pampas grass produce tall green shafts with large exotic plumes, and they are sturdy enough to last through the winter. However, after being battered by storms for months, last summer's beauty is looking very bedraggled. To keep your plant attractive and healthy, the old dried foliage and flowers should be removed. You say your grasses are new, so you may be able to just clip the mass of dried and dead material off with hedge clippers. Never use a weedeater to cut back ornamental grasses. The shredding action of the weedeater can damage the plant, create disease and fungus problems and may cause irregular growth patterns. A nice clean cut, one to two feet up from the base of the plant, should remove all old foliage and leave room for bright green new growth in spring. It is important to remove the old foliage before growth begins so you don't cut or damage the tips of the new grassy leaves after they have emerged. New growth that has been chopped will have brown tips, so prune early. It is not advisable to dig up and replant grasses in the cold, wet soil of winter. Most grasses are warm season growers and they often won't strike roots when moved early. Wait until late spring and warm weather before you dig and divide and replant ornamental grasses.
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