Spring is peeping its head up here in central North Carolina. Granted, we did have snow flurries early last week, but Crocuses, Daffodils, Trout Lilies, and Blood Root are up. You know what that means? Cutting back grasses. And if they need it, sedges, too.
At our nursery, we cut back grasses in the landscape once a year in late winter. Our crew uses hedge trimmers for mixed plantings. They cut them back to between 6 and 18 inches, depending on the size of the crown. When the grasses are in large sweeps, they’re burned back.
The trick with cutting back or burning grasses is to get them while they’re dormant or have just broken dormancy. You want to remove the old foliage without nipping the newly emerging blades. If cut or damaged, the blade tips will remain blunt throughout the growing season and may turn brown. Most of our grasses have already been cut back
Quick Fact: The foliage of most plants cannot repair itself once damaged. Interestingly, grass blades have the unusual ability to continue growing after being cut or damaged. The grass tips cannot repair themselves, but the blade will continue to grow. Grasses are able to do this because they have growing points between the blade and stem, called intercalary meristems. This handy trait has helped them survive in prairie habitats where grazing animals regularly snip the tops off.
We suggest leaving your grasses intact until late winter to take advantage of their structure in the landscape. With many grasses, their flowing habits, linear blades, and interesting seed heads persist well into late winter.
Cool season grasses, such as Festuca, Calamagrostis, and Nassella can be cut back earlier in winter to take advantage of their early season growth spurt. If their summer foliage gets tired looking, you can cut them back in late summer to highlight the flush of fall growth that follows.
Evergreen sedges should be treated a little differently than grasses. They are generally slow to recover from cutting back. We suggest cutting them back only if the foliage becomes too ragged for your taste. Of course, it’s always safe to cut back any dead foliage in late winter as you would with a grass. If you do need to cut back sedges, keep an eye out for new growth in mid-winter. They’re cool season plants, so they start growing earlier than grasses.
We’ve noted several folks tending to their grasses this past week.
- On Manhattan’s High Line, staff and volunteers are performing their spring cut back.
- The Obsessive Neurotic Gardener introduces his young daughter to power tools as they tackle his grass collection.
- For a quick Q&A on cutting back grasses, The Chattanooga Times Free Press has a short and sweet article.
Isn’t it great that you can cut back grasses once a year and be done with it? We think so.