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Posts Tagged ‘when to cut back ornamental grasses in spring’

Crocus are blooming

Male spring peeper calling; photo credit Jack Ray

Male spring peeper calling;
photo credit: Jack Ray

The other night as I drove past a small pond on my way home, the chirping of the spring peepers was deafening! But I was happy to hear them!

Spring is near!

The peepers are singing, the crocus are blooming, and the daffodils are beginning to open! It seems that spring is slowly creeping into the Shenandoah Valley.

It has definitely been an odd winter this year with some very warm stretches mixed in with a few very cold periods. Some perennials have been fooled and many broke into growth earlier than they should have.

In late January, we received the following question via our Discussion Board:

Hosta damaged from a late freeze can be cut back

Even hosta damaged from a
late freeze can be cut back

I am in Toano, Virginia. We had an unusually warm start to our winter. As a result, my blueberries bloomed, my peonies started to come up as did my daylilies. Some of my daylilies never really went dormant. I covered the daylilies and peonies with pine straw but the daylilies grew almost 6 inches. Now the leaves are burned and chewed. Can I cut the leaves back to the ground now or [should I] leave them alone?

This type of plant damage is not unusual but it normally occurs in the spring when a late freeze damages the tender new spring growth. It’s a bit crazy that there was this much growth during a warm spell in the winter but, as we all know, it was a crazy winter!

Freeze damage on daylilies resembles insect damage.

Freeze damage on daylilies
resembles insect damage.

Here is my response to the question:

Yes it would be fine to cut the damaged foliage of your daylilies back. You can cut them right to the ground. The “chewed” leaves are probably a result of freeze damage rather than damage from a chewing pest. Re-cover the plants with the pine straw after you trim them back.

Pine straw makes a great, long-lasting mulch and the daylilies and peonies will grow right up through it.

Cut Liriope back before growth begins in spring

Cut Liriope back before
growth begins in spring

March is also a good time to trim back the old foliage of some of your evergreen perennials – especially Liriope, Helleborus, and Epimedium. It is so much easier if you do this before the new foliage begins to grow. You can pretty much just gather up the old leaves in a bunch and cut the stems close to the ground. Just be careful that there is no new growth in the way of your shears before you snip!

The old fronds of evergreen ferns should also be cut back now. Last weekend, I trimmed the old foliage from my Dryopteris, cinnamon ferns, ostrich ferns, and Christmas ferns.

Trim back old fern fronds before new growth occurs

Trim back old fern fronds
before new growth occurs

The crowns of these ferns were still firm and tight but the fiddleheads will soon begin to pop up and unfurl. After that, it will become harder to clean up the old foliage without snapping off the tender new fronds.

Ornamental grasses should also be cut back now. This is another group of perennials that is important to cut back before new growth begins. One of the easiest ways to do this is to cinch the old foliage together with twine or a bungee cord and use hedge shears to cut the clump back near the ground. Since it’s already tied up, you can just carry the whole bundle out of the garden. Nice and neat!
Here is a video showing just how easy this method is.

Oh and don’t forget!

Mark pruned this overgrown lilac back to the ground.

Mark pruned this overgrown
lilac back to the ground.

If you have some shrubs that have outgrown their space, now is the time to do any heavy rejuvenation pruning. This can be done with boxwood, holly, yew, rhododendron, azalea, and any others that have dormant buds in the bare wood. Even spring bloomers like overgrown lilac and forsythia can be pruned back hard to rejuvenate them and improve blooming, in addition to getting them back to a manageable size.

Normally, spring blooming shrubs are pruned after they finish blooming but severe pruning, where they are cut back hard (sometimes to the ground) is best done while they are still dormant in late winter or early spring. Of course you will sacrifice the bloom for the season but they should bounce back and bloom even better next spring or maybe the spring after.

Winter is on the way out! It’s time to get back in the garden!

Until next time – Happy Spring!

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