Ornamental grasses are a great addition to the landscape. Most are usually easy to establish, need little water and fertilization, provide different textures, and are generally low maintenance. The one main maintenance activity that is necessary for most of our north Florida ornamental grasses is a good “haircut” in the spring.

Ornamental grasses for north Florida, such as muhly grass, purple fountain grass, and Miscanthus (l to r), add texture, color, and winter interest to a landscape. Credit: UF/IFAS.

Pruning grasses removes the spent flowers and seed heads, as well as all of the brown leaves, which provided the fall and winter interest that ornamental grasses bring to the landscape. These leaves also serve as a sort of natural wind-chime during the cold, windy days of our winters and may even provide cover and nesting material for wildlife. However, now it’s spring, and lush green growth is waiting to pop through that dead mix of leaves and stems. Pruning clears all that out, allowing for good air movement and a rejuvenation of the plant that can help minimize pests and disease.

Miscanthus grass before a spring “haircut”. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Miscanthus grass after a spring “haircut”. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

To prune ornamental grasses, wait for after the last average frost date and grab some nice sharp shears. Next, just shear the clump about six inches above the soil line working from the outside towards the center with a slight angle, creating a sort of fade effect. For larger specimens you may need to adjust the cut a bit higher and may even want to use a hedge trimmer. Nice clean cuts are preferred.

Shears are the way to go when pruning ornamental grasses. Orange and blue handles optional! Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS

One good pointer I saw online is to also bring along an old belt or a piece of rope to cinch up the dead material before pruning to easily collect the debris. I tend to use a cut and swipe motion that pushes the large material to one side of the plant, and I follow up with a metal garden rake to pull out more of the old, coarser material.

Within no time, new growth will flush out from the mound and often surprise you with how quick it can grow. This proves just how dynamic ornamental grasses can be in the landscape, showcasing lush green growth during one season and providing stark, whimsical interest during another.

Miscanthus grass two weeks following pruning. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

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