6:00am

Sat March 15, 2014
The Garden Report

With The Onset Of Spring, It's Time to Cut Back Your Plants

Cut back ornamental grasses to make way for the new growing cycle.
Credit Gardening in a Minute/Flickr Creative Commons

With the warmer weather around the corner, spring bulbs like tulips and crocus are getting ready to bloom. Ornamental grasses will require more attention and (gasp!) weeds have already gotten a head start. It’s time to get back to work in the garden.

Tom Throgmorton explains how to cut back perennials for the new season.

Be careful not to blaze through the early gardening chores, your body will need to adjust to the work. It's real easy to pop a gasket by making your body go too fast, too hard, too soon. Stretch or limber up before picking up the shovel or fork.

As for the plants?

Mallow and mustard weeds haven't missed a beat this winter. If they aren't dug out soon, they'll take over by summer. With the moist soil it is easy to get the weeds out, root and all.

Ornamental grasses will grow quickly within the next few weeks and the dead parts of the plant can be cut back by hand. A sharp shear and strong wrist are necessary. A power hedge shear makes quick work of cutting grasses. Try to run the shear straight through as cutting back and forth makes a lot of extra cleanup work. Some folks use a reciprocating saw to cut their grass clumps.

Most grasses should be cut four to 6 inches above the soil. Smaller grasses like blue fescue can be cut lower. Depending on the weather, warm season grasses like fountain grass won’t show new green blades for four or six weeks while the cool season grasses are already making an appearance.

Every three years these grasses may die out in one large clump. Rejuvenate them in the spring by digging the clump and dividing it into three or five smaller clumps. Organic lawn fertilizer high in nitrogen will get those new clumps off to a fresh start.    

Perennials are left up to provide a more colorful landscape during the cold months and the seed heads also provide some winter food for the birds. Now it’s time to cut most perennial stalks back as low to the ground as possible. Clean up winter debris like leaves around perennials.

The snow will likely return before we can officially say winter is over, but the garden already needs some attention now. Before you know it, the spring bloom will be upon us.

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