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Cutting Back Deciduous Grasses in Late Winter or Early Spring

Keith Hardy - Bio Photo
Keith Hardy
Senior Editor

Keith has been involved in the gardening and landscaping industry for the past 21 years. From a jobbing gardener to running his own landscaping services....

Last Updated on January 6, 2023

Cutting back deciduous grasses is one of a number of useful gardening tasks you can undertake in the first few weeks of the year, that will help keep the plants healthy and looking their best for spring. Deciduous grasses are grasses that lose their leaves in the winter, and they often need to be cut back to encourage new growth in the spring. Here are some tips for cutting back deciduous grasses:

Below we look at the basic time, reasons, and methods for cutting back deciduous grasses in the first few weeks of the year. We will then go into more detail about the best ways to cut back the grass, why various species of deciduous grass require different treatments and explain the differences between new and old growth and trimming for ornamental effect rather than maintenance.

The Basics

Cutting Back Deciduous Grasses in Late Winter or Early Spring - Pennisetum Alopecuroides in flower
Deciduous Grasses – Pennisetum Alopecuroides
  1. Wait until late winter or early spring: It’s best to cut back deciduous grasses until late winter or early spring, as this is when the plants are starting to awaken from their winter dormancy.
  1. Cut the grasses back to just above new growth: When cutting back the grasses, make sure to cut them back to just above the new growth. This will help encourage the plants to produce new shoots and leaves and will also help keep the grasses looking neat and tidy.
  1. Use sharp, clean tools: Make sure you use sharp, clean tools when cutting back the grasses. This will help ensure that you get a clean cut and will help prevent the spread of diseases.
  1. Dispose of the clippings properly: After cutting back the grasses, dispose of the clippings properly. You can either compost the clippings or add them to your green waste bin.

The Benefits of Cutting Back Deciduous Grasses in Late Winter or Early Spring:

For several reasons, deciduous grasses benefit from being cut back in late winter or early spring. One of the main benefits is that it helps to remove any damaged or diseased foliage that may have accumulated over the winter months. This can help prevent the spread of diseases and pests and allow the grasses to put their energy into producing new, healthy growth. Additionally, cutting back the grasses in late winter or early spring can help to encourage new shoots and leaves to emerge, which can help improve the plants’ overall appearance and health.

How to Cut Back the Grasses, 

To cut back deciduous grasses, you will need a pair of clean, sharp shears or scissors. Make sure that the blades of the shears are oiled and well-maintained, as this will help to ensure a clean cut. Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased foliage when cutting back the grass, and trim the grass to just above the new growth. Be sure to make the cuts at a 45-degree angle, as this will help to prevent water from accumulating on the cut surfaces and potentially causing rot. Avoid cutting too close to the ground, as this can leave the grasses vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Safety Considerations to Keep in Mind While Cutting Back the Grasses:

When cutting back deciduous grasses, you should take certain precautions to ensure safety. First and foremost, always use sharp, clean tools to prevent accidental cuts or injuries. Wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp grass blades, and wear protective eyewear if you are working with grasses with seeds or other potentially irritating particles. Additionally, be mindful of your surroundings and be aware of any power lines, utility pipes, or other hazards that may be present.

Other types of Maintenance or Care that Deciduous Grasses May Require:

Cutting Back Deciduous Grasses in Late Winter or Early Spring - Fountain Grass Ornamental Grass
Deciduous Grasses – Fountain Grass Ornamental Grass

In addition to cutting back deciduous grasses in late winter or early spring, there are several other types of maintenance and care that these plants may require. One consideration is fertilization, as deciduous grasses typically need to be fertilized in the spring or early summer to promote new growth. 

Choose a fertilization product explicitly formulated for grasses, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application. Deciduous grasses must also be watered regularly, especially during drought or hot, dry weather. Be sure to provide the grasses with enough water to keep the soil moist, but avoid over-watering, as this can lead to root rot.

Specific Types of Deciduous Grasses May Require Extra Care or Maintenance than Others:

Not all deciduous grasses are the same, and different types of grasses may require additional care and maintenance. Some common types of deciduous grasses include:

  • Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana)
  • Maiden grass (Miscanthus Sinensis)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
  • Reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)

Each of these grasses has unique characteristics and requirements. You should research the specific type of grass you are growing to provide the proper care. For example, some deciduous grasses may need to be fertilized more frequently than others or require different watering levels.

How to Identify and Distinguish It from Old-Growth:

Deciduous grasses may exhibit several new growth types in late winter or early spring. Some common types of new growth include:

  • Emerging shoots are the first signs of new growth appearing on deciduous grasses in the spring. Emerging shoots are usually green and tender and may be accompanied by small, pointed leaves.
  • New leaves: As the grasses grow, fresh leaves will begin to emerge from the emerging shoots. These leaves will be larger and more mature than the initial emerging shoots and will typically be a brighter green color.
  • Flowering stalks: Some deciduous grasses, such as pampas grass, produce large, showy flowers on tall stalks. These stalks are a type of new growth and will typically emerge from the center of the plant in the spring.

To distinguish new growth from old growth on deciduous grasses, look for the following characteristics:

  • Color: New growth is typically a brighter, fresher green than old growth.
  • Texture: New growth is usually softer and more tender than old growth, which may be more woody or fibrous.
  • Location: New growth typically emerges from the base of the plant, whereas old growth may be higher up on the plant.

How to Determine the Appropriate Length to Cut Back the Grasses To:

Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' - Cutting Back Deciduous Grass
Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ – Deciduous Grass

The appropriate length to cut back deciduous grasses will depend on many factors, including the specific type of grass, the desired appearance, and the growing conditions. In general, it is best to cut the grasses back to just above new growth, as this will help to encourage new shoots and leaves to emerge. 

However, the exact length will vary depending on the grass and the desired appearance. For example, if you want a more formal or manicured look, you may need to cut the grass back more aggressively. On the other hand, if you want a more natural or wild appearance, leave the grasses longer. It is always a good idea to research the specific type of grass you are growing to determine the appropriate length for cutting.

How to prune or shape deciduous grasses for ornamental purposes:

As well as cutting back deciduous grasses for essential maintenance, you can also prune or shape the grasses for ornamental purposes. To prune or shape deciduous grasses:

  1. Use clean, sharp shears or scissors to make precise cuts.
  2. Remove any dead, damaged, or diseased foliage first.
  3. Determine the desired shape or form for the grasses, and use the shears to remove excess foliage carefully as needed.
  4. Make the cuts at a 45-degree angle, as this will help to prevent water from accumulating on the cut surfaces and potentially causing rot.
  5. Avoid cutting too close to the ground, as this can leave the grasses vulnerable to pests and diseases.
  6. Prune or shape the grasses in late winter or early spring before the new growth emerges.
Keith Hardy - Bio Photo
Keith HardySenior Editor

Keith has been involved in the gardening and landscaping industry for the past 21 years. From a jobbing gardener to running his own landscaping services. He is now dedicated to bringing you the latest in gardening news. Read more

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