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Spring Care for Clump Forming Ornamental Grasses


Tie grasses with rope before cutting to make moving to compost pile easier.


By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners

 

Previously, we have written about both short and tall native clump forming prairie grasses.  Their year-round texture, drought tolerance, and wildlife value make them great ornamental grasses in our landscapes.  But like many other landscape plants they need some maintenance and spring is the time to think about their once-a-year cut.  Their low maintenance is a plus although some amount of spring care is required. Yearly growth dies back over the winter.  Once our temperatures warm up new growth will begin and continue until the first freeze.

 

So, what clump forming native grasses are we talking about?  Some recommended grasses for West Texas are Blue Grama, Bull Grass, Deer Grass, Gulf Coast Muhly, Little Bluestem and Sideoats Gramma.  Previously we have profiled:

Deer Muhly Muhlenbergia rigens, https://www.westtexasgardening.org/post/deer-grass

Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula, https://www.westtexasgardening.org/post/sideoats-grama

Two of our other favorites are:   Lindheimer’s Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) and Hooded Windmill Grass (Chloris cucullata)For a complete list check out westtexasgardening.org and click on resources/recommended plant list.

Cut back your clump forming grasses when the new growth just begins to show.  They should have quite a bit of dried plant material on top which provided winter protection for the plant, shelter for insects and birds, and interest in your winter garden. For small clump forming grasses, simply gather the top of the plant together like a ponytail and cut about 4” above the crown with a hand tool.  If the grass is too large for you to handle divide it into sections and use a rope to tie off each section.  Cut each section of the entire plant using shears or power tools.  Tying the large grass in sections and using a rope will make cleanup easy.  Simply take the cut section to your compost pile or use it as bedding for animals.  The cut grass can be shredded and used as mulch but be aware you run the risk of spreading seeds in places you don’t want them.  

After cutting, check your plant to see if the center has started to die out and you can remove the dead sections. This center die out is common with clump forming grasses and gives you the opportunity to divide and replant some smaller sections.  If your plant is too large to dig the whole thing up and divide it, just dig up a section from one side of the plant leaving the rest in the ground.  Use a shovel or spade for this job.  These grasses are tough and have a lot of roots so you can be aggressive when digging up a section.  After you get the section out divide it into smaller sections using your power tool or a saw.  Relocate and plant the subdivided sections or share them with a friend.  Be sure you check that your drip irrigation is not in the way before you dig! 

Our native clump-forming grasses are a welcome mat for a wide range of our native butterflies, bees, and birds.  So, try welcoming them into your life and rejuvenate with them in each spring.    

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.   Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org.  Click on “Resources”.


Divide grasses and plant where desired.

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