Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crew Cut for Fountain Grass

Fountain grass needinglate-winter trim

February days don’t get much better than last Friday—overcast, then sunny, temperatures rising into the low 70’s. “Make hay while the sun shines,” goes the old saying, and I got out my electric hedge trimmer and pitch fork and started serious front-yard garden cleanup.

First I gave crew cuts to the three clumps of fountain grass (Pennisetum) that share a small island bed with a boxwood. The island surrounds the access port of our septic system, and the plants hide the white, PVC plastic pipe from view most of the year. The evergreen boxwood grows between the port and our house, hiding the port year-round on that side.

Why didn’t I cut back the fountain grass in late November or December? Well, I could have, once the ornamental grass died back. But I leave it over winter to add some character to our landscape. And we especially enjoy feathered characters—chipping sparrows—that in early winter hop onto blades of the dried fountain grass and peck away at the seed heads as the grass slowly sinks toward the ground.

Crew cut finished
Even with electric trimmer, cutting fountain grass is slow going because it is so tough. Remember the point I made in “Deer Country 2,” that deer don’t have top incisors so find it difficult to browse on tough or woody foods. I suspect they don’t browse on ornamental grasses because the grass is too difficult to bite off.

After I finished giving crew cuts to the fountain grass, I put the trimmer to work cutting back nearby liatris, Siberian iris, butterfly weed, lychnis, and coreopsis plants that I had also allowed to stand over winter in nearby flower beds. The iris had tough-to-cut leaves too, but the trimmer made quick work of the others.

I had planned to trim the 20 or so clumps that stretch along the outside of our backyard fence. But cleaning up the island garden and then cutting back the perennials in the nearby beds, plus cutting back raspberry canes in the back yard, took two hours, after which this Ancient Gardener was aching here, there, and just about everywhere.

Ok, let’s keep some of the clean up for another warm, late-winter day.

And remember, Bob, to wear your back brace next time you do yard work.

In “Deer Country 11” and subsequent postings, you’ll meet the perennials I’ve mentioned in this posting.

And a future posting will tell you about my Heritage raspberries.
'Weren't we doing spring yard work last week?'


  1. I want to get rid of a row of well established raspberries. Will an electric hedge trimmer do the job on the canes? Rather than cutting them off with a long handled lopper?

  2. I see several possibilities, Shirley: 1. How old are the canes? If they are more than two months old, the trimmer may have a hard time cutting them because the canes have become too woody. I suggest you try with the trimmer. If it works, great. 2. If the trimmer cannot do the job, you could just let the canes go dormant this fall--and then dig them out--since you want to get rid of the whole row--or you can dig them out now. That way, you won't have to cut them at all. 3. Whichever way you do it, keep an eye out next spring for new canes and dig them out early, or keep hoeing the sprouts until the roots surrender. Most diggers--at least I--don't get 100% of the roots, and raspberries will try to start new plants from the few roots you miss. Let me know if you need more detail or have a question. Bob ###

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