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Care & Maintenance of Ornamental Grasses

BY KIM HUGHES –

Ornamental grasses are valued as low maintenance plants and have become increasingly popular in home landscape use. The two maintenance requirements that ornamental grasses have are annual cutting back of spent foliage and the division of large grass clumps.

Fertilizer – Ornamental grasses require relatively low levels of fertility. By keeping the level of nitrogen low, lodging or flopping over can be kept to a minimum. Leaf color and vigor are good guides to nitrogen requirements. Application of one-half to one pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. of garden area or about one-quarter cup per plant is sufficient. Apply fertilizer just as growth resumes in the spring. An application of a slow release fertilizer in the spring is enough to take care of the plant’s needs throughout the summer. Fertilizer should be watered-in thoroughly.

Water – Plants should be well watered the first season after planting so they can develop a good root system. Established plants do not need regular watering, but may need supplemental watering during drought periods.

Weed Control – Cultivate around grass plants to control weeds.

Application of mulch will greatly reduce the need for cultivation as well as watering. It also tends to keep grasses in check that have a tendency to be heavy reseeding types.

Winter Protection and Spring Clean-up – Grasses do not need to be cut down before winter. In fact, they are attractive when left standing and the foliage helps to insulate the crown of the plant. Cut back the foliage to about 4-6 inches in the spring before growth resumes. When foliage is removed, spring growth will begin earlier. Old foliage left on the plant can delay the crown’s warming and subsequent growth by as much as 3 weeks.

Dividing – Divide ornamental grass plants every three to four years to reduce crowding, to propagate new plants, or to rejuvenate plants suffering from die-out in the center. Division should be done in the spring just before growth begins, or in the late summer or fall after the growing season. Dig up the clump with the root ball intact. Cut into large segments with a sharp knife or digging spade. Plant one of the segments in the original location. Replant the remaining segments in other areas of the garden, or give them away to friends.

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