Ornamental grasses are becoming more popular in home and business landscapes every year, and we are right there also as big fans of them. They are very well adapted to Carolina weather and soil conditions, very low maintenance, and provide a beautiful contrast to shrubs, trees, and lawns. Some of our favorite varieties are Fountain Grass, Maiden Grass, Pampas Grass, Zebra Grass, Mexican Feather Grass, and Japanese Blood Grass. Some stay moderate in size, while some such as Pampas Grass can become quite large, so care must be made in deciding where to plant these. Some ornamental grasses such as Liriope, Feather Reed Grass, and Northern Sea Oats are more shade tolerant than turfgrasses such as Fescue, so these may be a good alternative for extreme shade conditions.
Spring is an excellent time to add them to the landscape. New plants can be purchased and planted, or you can divide existing plants by cutting off a portion of the root system, crown, and stems and re-planting elsewhere. Ornamental grasses do fine on one or two fertilizations per season, using a balanced slow-release fertilizer. They are fairly drought resistant, but good irrigation or rainfall is a plus.
In late winter and very early spring, it’s a good idea to cut back brown dormant vegetation to make room for new spring growth from the base of the plant. Sharp shears or a strong weed-eater may work, but larger more mature grasses can become large and difficult to prune back. If the grasses are very large, and if you live in the country as we do and the ornamental grass is away from your home, you can actually burn back the dead vegetation with fire, but do that very carefully. If you live within city limits, that’s not legal nor smart to do. You’ll have to cut back the vegetation in this case. But if you are out in the country, and with a water hose handy just in case things get out of hand, you can burn back the dead vegetation. Wait until it rains, and then do this the day after while surround vegetation is not dry.
Either way you do it, cutting back and eliminating the brown, dead leaves and stems from last year’s growth will help the plant spring back to life better later this spring and develop a better shape without all of the brown stems from last year.