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

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Picture courtesy of

Are you thinking of getting a fresh Christmas tree this year? It seems that there are tree lots on every street corner: The big boxes, the corner store, nurseries, garden centers; everywhere. So how on earth do we choose one? Here are a few simple steps that will ensure you get the freshest tree and keep it that way. When buying a fresh tree, check that the needles bend rather than break with gentle pressure; shake it carefully to look for needle loss; and check the cut end: it should be sticky with sap. If these conditions exist, buy your tree and take it home. First, make a new cut at the end of the trunk about an inch above the old one. Keep the cut end standing in water, whether you decorate the tree immediately or not. This allows a fresh route for water to travel into the trunk. Check the tree's water level frequently, and refill as necessary. Fresh evergreen trees can take up an amazing amount of water. If the water level drops below the trunk, a seal will form, preventing the tree from absorbing water. Keep your tree away from heat sources such as a heating duct or television set. A fresh tree that receives good care should remain in safe condition indoors for ten days to two weeks.

After the holidays, there are several options for your tree other than the landfill. Recycle your tree or mulch it in the garden. Most municipalities in the Denver area have recycling available. Contact your own city or county. Never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace (the pitch content in the bark and needles can cause them to burst into flames from the intense heat).

Or do something whimsical: right after Christmas, move the tree outside and decorate it with popcorn, fresh cranberries, peanuts in the shell, pine cones with suet and birdseed; apples, rice cakes, dried corn bundles. Use natural string, ribbon and raffia for hanging. The birds will use this material for nesting in the spring, after the food is gone. In the spring, trim off the branches, mulch those in the garden and use the frame of the tree to create a bottle tree. Place colored bottles of all kinds on the stub ends of your tree. Put in a location to glisten in the sun and enjoy! Tradition says that bottle trees protect the home from evil spirits by trapping spirits inside the bottles, where they do no harm. With a little imagination, dear gardener, your tree can provide enjoyment all year: the traditional tree at Christmas; a home for birds to gather and feed, garden mulch and finally a wonderful piece of folk art created by your family.