Monday, December 15, 2008

“Harvesting” Tall Ornamental Grasses by Gardener Dave

In the last several years, ornamental grasses have become very popular in our area. Many of these grasses grow quite tall, to 5 feet and even much taller. They generally remain quite attractive during the winter in their dry state, unless the snow breaks them down. Then they become unattractive and messy. They can be cut down after they are dried, in the fall, winter or early spring. I leave the shorter varieties up, but I make it a practice to cut the taller ones before we have a heavy snow. My row of Miscanthus “Morning Light” clumps along our front steps has grown too large to leave up during the winter, even though they were planted over 3 feet away from the steps. Uncut, they would also take up room that I need to deposit snow shoveled from my steps.

Handling these long grasses once they are broken down and cut off can be very messy, and the individual dry blades are pesky to chase in a wind and pick up if not tightly bound together. I have found that the best way to handle these tall grasses is to cut them before snow comes.

Bundle them before cutting, using long (approx. 3-foot) plastic “Zip Ties”. These are available at the “Big Box” stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s in packages of 10 or so. You can put two or more of these ties together end to end to make a tie of the length needed, placing them about halfway up the grass bundle. Tighten them gradually as you cut through the stalks – I prefer using an electric hedge trimmer for cutting at about 6 inches above the ground – and you will wind up with a tight, compact bundle.

The plastic ties can be removed and re-used if you want to tie the bundles with twine, etc. for disposal. Just insert the tip of a small flat screwdriver into the tie where the “zipper” locks, and it can be easily “unzipped” and removed. However, I prefer to leave a (shorter) plastic tie on the bundle for trash pickup, especially if your trash pickup will be several days in the future. The plastic tie can be easily re-tightened as the bundle dries, whereas cord or twine is not that easily re-tightened and may allow much of the dried grass to slip out when someone tries to pick it up.

I hope you find this “handling hint” useful. I have chased too many loose dry ornamental grass leaves in the wind to do the job any other way. I hope the snow has not yet broken your tall grasses down!

Gardener Dave