Is zebra grass invasive?

How to Cut Back Zebra Grass

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Zebra grass provides nearly year-round color and texture to any landscape. This plant’s elegant fountains of banded foliage grace the growing season and welcome copper-toned plumes late in the year. Like many perennials, ornamental grasses should be cut back for the sake of their health. Enjoy the spectacular continual display that your zebra grass will provide through the winter, then cut it back in the spring. This will serve to rejuvenate the plant and ensure that new growth comes in evenly and attractively.

Prune out brown or yellow foliage as it may appear throughout the growing season. This will keep your zebra grass looking tidy.

Cut zebra grass plumes liberally from late summer through the fall for stunning indoor accents and arrangements.

Cut the plant’s plumes before the seeds begin to mature in mid-September so that you don’t end up with a yard full of unwanted zebra grass next year. Seal the debris in plastic bags and dispose of them in the trash. Don’t add them to your compost heap.

Shear your zebra plant’s foliage back completely to about 6 to 10 inches tall in the spring before the new growth emerges.

Zebra Grass Planting: How To Care For Zebra Grass

Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) is native to Japan and one of the Miscanthus maiden grass cultivars, all of which are used as ornamental grasses. Zebra grass plants die back in winter but are perennial and re-sprout in spring. The grasses provide four seasons of interest with young spring variegated striped foliage, summer copper colored inflorescence, fall golden leaves and winter texture and form. Zebra ornamental grass can get up to 6 feet high and produces a spectacular screen or specimen plant.

Characteristics of Zebra Grass Plants

There are few showier plants for the garden. Zebra ornamental plants have long arching leaves with appealing stripes across the width, like dappled foliage in the sun. The plant is perennial but the foliage dies off in cold weather, leaving an architecturally interesting skeleton. It produces brand new deep green leaves in spring that begin to show more and more golden striping as the leaf matures.

The plants are hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. Choose a sunny to partially sunny location when growing zebra grass. Its clumping habit makes it perfect when planted in groups as a hedge or alone in a container.

Site Conditions for Growing Zebra Grass

Hot sunny summers help the plant form copper colored, feathery inflorescences in September. The plant then produces fluffy seeds, which provide airy distraction to the late fall foliage. This grass produces best in moist soils or even boggy riparian edges but established grasses can tolerate short periods of drought.

USDA zones 5 to 9 are ideal for zebra grass planting. Work in compost or leaf litter to a depth of at least 6 inches prior to installing the plant. Space the plants 36 to 48 inches apart and install in spring when the plant is mostly dormant.

In the cooler zones, choose a place on the western side of the house in a sheltered area or where cold doesn’t pocket.

How to Care for Zebra Grass

Zebra grass plants are resistant to most pests and diseases. They may get some foliar rusts or small leaf damage from chewing insects, but for the most part the plant is quite strong and hardy.

Provide a full sun environment and plenty of water for best growth. The plants work well in containers but will need more water than those in the garden bed.

Fertilize in spring with a good organic plant food. Cut back the inflorescences in either fall or spring. If you like the look of the dry feathery flowers, leave them until spring. If not, cut them back to within a few inches of the crown of the plant in fall. Remove any damaged foliage as it occurs.

If the plant is in too much shade, the leaf blades can get floppy, but you can provide a stake or even a tomato cage to help prop them upright.

Ornamental Grasses and Grass-like Plants

Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants are valued in home landscapes for their hardiness, ease of care, dramatic appearance, and the wide variety of colors, textures, and sizes available.

Ornamental grasses are valued additions in landscape designs.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Types of Grasses

Ornamental grasses refers to both true grasses and plants that have a grass-like appearance, such as sedges, that are used for similar purposes in gardens.

Most ornamental grasses are perennials, living for two or more years. Annual grasses live for only one growing season because of their natural growth habit or they are not hardy in our climate.

Grasses have growth habits that are either clumping or spreading. Spreading grasses expand rapidly by aboveground or underground stems. Care must be taken in planting spreading grasses as they may as they may overtake desirable plantings. Clumping or bunch grasses grow in a clump that gradually increase in diameter.

Most ornamental grasses planted in the South are classified as cool or warm season plants.

Cool season grasses begin new growth in fall or winter and bloom in spring or early summer. They will go dormant or decline in appearance during the summer heat. Most ornamental grasses for the South are warm season growers. They grow rapidly during spring and summer, bloom in late summer or fall, and are dormant through the winter.


Ornamental grasses vary in height from those that reach-up to 15 feet tall to lower growing grasses that are used as ground covers. Grass forms vary from low mounds to fountains and tall verticals.

Ornamental Features

The flower heads of many grasses are very showy. Flowers vary in size, color, and texture. Flowers and seed heads last for weeks or months, and many varieties provide interest throughout the winter.

Foliage provides additional interest with a range of fine to coarse textured leaf blades, softly arching or upright forms, and deep green, blue, red or purple, yellow, or variegated leaf colors. Many grasses have good fall color, changing to golden yellow, orange, red, or purple before fading to tan or straw hues in the winter.

Grasses also give interest to the garden in ways that few other plants can. They sway easily in the wind, adding the appeal of movements and rustling sounds to the landscape. Their rapid growth and changing appearance throughout the year add seasonal interest.

Landscape Use

Because grasses are such a varied group, they can be incorporated for many different landscape purposes. Grasses with a striking-growth habit, foliage color, or flowers can be used as accent plants. They may be substituted in place of smaller shrubs, in perennial borders, and used in container plantings. In mass, some grasses can stabilize hillside soils for erosion control.

Growing Conditions

Grasses are a large group, with varying needs, but nearly all share some growing preferences. Most ornamental grasses must have well-drained soil and full sun. Well-established sun loving grasses are drought tolerant. Planting them in raised beds will help to ensure good drainage. Ordinary garden soil is adequate for most grasses. Some grass-like sedges and rushes will thrive in moist or even wet soil.

A small of number of grasses and grass-like plants will grow in part to full shade. A few examples of shade tolerant grasses are northern sea oat grass, Japanese forest grass, and sedges.


While many perennials prefer fall planting in South Carolina, the warm season ornamental grasses will do best if planted in spring. Cool season grasses can be planted in fall. Plant grasses as far apart as they will grow in height at maturity.

Ornamental grasses are usually available grown in containers. If plants are pot-bound, loosen the roots around the bottom and sides of the root ball. Soil preparation depends on the type of grass. Many grasses will not thrive well in amended soils, while others will grow with additions. It is important to know what each type of grass requires in order to plant it properly. Spread the roots out and refill the planting hole, firming the soil in around the plants roots to avoid air pockets. Be sure the crown of the plant (the point where roots and top join) is even with the soil surface. A good rule is to keep the soil level the same as it was in the container.

Water plants thoroughly after planting to settle the soil around the roots. Pay close attention to watering the first few weeks after planting. While many mature grasses are drought tolerant, they must have a well-established root system to withstand dry periods.

For more information, refer to HGIC 1052, Planting Shrubs Correctly.


Watering: Once established, moisture needs vary by grass species, soil type, temperature, and other factors. Most ornamental grasses will grow best with at least 1 inch of water per week from rain or irrigation. Drip irrigation is an excellent way to water grasses. It saves water by applying it directly to the roots and reduces the chance of foliar diseases.

Fertilization: Most ornamental grasses need very little fertilizer. It is best to base any fertilizer applications on the results of a soil test. Excessive nitrogen in the soil can lead to disease susceptibility, overly vigorous growth, and weak stems that will cause the grass to fall over.

Cutting Back: Cut back grasses before the new season’s growth starts. Since many grasses are attractive in the garden during winter, cutting them back is usually done in late winter or early spring. Cut stems to a few inches above ground level for best appearance. There are a number of ways to cut back grasses. They may be cut back by hand with pruners or hedge shears, electric hedge shears, or a weed eater with a brush-cutting blade.

Some evergreen grasses, such as sedges (Carex) or sweet flag (Acorus) do not recover quickly from being cut back. Comb the foliage of these plants with gloved hands in spring to remove old leaves.

Dividing: Most grasses should be divided every 3 to 4 years. If ornamental grasses are not divided, they will eventually become thin or die out in the center. It is best to divide grasses while they are a manageable size. Overgrown grasses can be incredibly difficult to dig and divide.

Dig and divide warm season grasses during early spring, just before new growth starts. Divide cool-season grasses in early fall.

Most grasses have tough, vigorous root systems and may have to be divided with a shovel, saw, or ax. Hose off soil to make the roots easier to work with, then separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edges of the clump. Replant promptly and never let the roots dry out. For more information, refer to HGIC 1150, Dividing Perennials.


Ornamental grasses have few insect or disease problems. Rust occasionally attacks some cool season grasses, but most plants recover quickly after being cut back. Anthracnose is occasionally a problem. Diseases are most common on plants in improper growing conditions, with low light, poor air circulation, or excessive fertilization.

A few grasses, such as running or prolific seeding non-native grasses, can become pests if planted in the wrong location. To prevent running grasses from getting out of control, confine the root system in a deep bottomless container. Non-native grasses that seed vigorously should be used with care, especially near natural or wetland areas.

Species & Cultivars of Ornamental Grasses

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii): This tall native grass grows from 3 to 8 feet tall in a narrow clump. The leaves are blue-green in summer and turn a rust color in fall. It needs full sun and prefers moist to average soil but is very drought tolerant once established.

  • ‘Lord Snowden’ is a clump-forming 4 to 8 feet tall grass with large, powder blue foliage. It grows best in full sun and is drought tolerant. The summer blooms are in shades of orange, red, and tan. USDA Zones: 4 to 10
  • ‘Red October’ has narrow deep green leaves with red streaks. In the fall, the red hue changes to burgundy, and after the first frost, the foliage turns candy-apple red. When in bloom, it reaches a height of 5 to 6 feet. USDA Zones: 3 to 9

Side Oats Gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula): Side Oats Gramma is a beautiful native grass that will grow in sandy to clay soils in sun and is drought tolerant. The green foliage has a mounding growth habit and will reach a height of 2 to 3 feet. The long bloom stalks have purple to red tinged spikelets. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Blue Gamma (Bouteloua gracilis): This native grass is also commonly called mosquito grass, as the seed heads resemble mosquito larvae. The flowers float above the green foliage. This low growing grass will mature at ½ to 1 foot in height. It grows in full sun and is drought tolerant. USDA Zones: 3 to 9

  • ‘Blonde Ambition’ (PP22048) has blue-green foliage and matures to a height of 1 foot. The 2½ to 3 foot tall horizontal seed heads will first be chartreuse and turn to blonde as they age. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora): This cool season clump forming evergreen grass grows best in the upper Piedmont. It is a narrow, upright grass that reaches 2 to 4 feet tall with slim, tall flower heads in spring that turn golden tan in summer. These grasses will grow best in sun and is drought tolerant.

  • ‘Avalanche’ is easily grown in medium to wet soils in full sun and will grow between 3 to 5 feet tall. It has green and white variegated foliage. USDA Zones: 4 to 8
  • ‘Karl Foerster’ has a strong upright growth habit. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall and prefers rich, consistently moist soils. USDA Zones: 4 to 7
  • ‘Overdam’ has white striped foliage turning pink in cool weather. This variety will grow 2½ to 3 feet tall and must have part shade and moist soil. USDA Zones: 5 to 7

Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha): The arching dark leaves form a broad, mounded clump 3 to 4 feet tall that are covered by tall pink plumes in fall. This species tolerates hot summers better than C. acutiflora. It will grow best in the South in light or part shade, and moist well-drained soil. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Upland River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium): This native grass thrives in shade. In the fall, it bears oval flowers that dangle from 3 to 4 foot tall curving stems that are prized for dried flower arrangements. It can grow in sun to shade and prefers moist, rich soil, but tolerates drought once it is established. As it self-seeds abundantly, plant it in an appropriate area. This species is sometimes called northern sea oats. USDA Zones: 5 to 10

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechola macra): A shade loving, deciduous (i.e., loses its leaves in the winter) perennial grass that forms dense, cascading mounds. It grows best in humus rich, well-drained soils in part shade with medium moisture. Depending on the variety, the height ranges from 1 to 1½ feet. USDA Zones: 5-9

  • ‘Aureola’ has green leaves with golden yellow striping. It grows 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Fubuki’ is similar to ‘Aureola’ but has green and white variegated foliage. It will reach a height of 14 inches.

Muhly Grass or Hairgrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris): This showy native grass has clouds of tiny flowers that form a pinkish-purple or white haze appearing in October and fading to tan through the winter. Clumps of very fine, blue-green to gray-green foliage rise to 2 to 3 feet tall. It is best planted in full sun, and once it is established, becomes extremely drought tolerant. USDA Zones: 6 to 9

  • ‘White Cloud’ is a cultivar of the native Muhlenbergia. The airy seed heads are bright white to ivory and blooms shortly after the native Pink Muhly.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa): This ornamental grass has arching bamboo-like stems with billowy light green foliage and grows 5 to 6 feet tall. Bamboo muhly is an excellent non-invasive substitute for bamboo. It grows best in full sun and is drought resistant once established. USDA Zones: 7 to 10

Mexican Feather Grass (Nessella tenuissima): The exceptionally fine textured evergreen leaves of this grass will grow in a weeping mound. The delicate flower spikes appear in summer. Mexican Feather Grass prefers sun and dry soil; therefore, avoid excessive water once established. USDA Zones: 5 to 10

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): This beautiful native grass has many varieties with showy flowers, excellent fall color, and winter interest. Switchgrass prefers full sun in moist to wet soil, but is highly adaptable. It reseeds occasionally, but is not invasive.

  • ‘Cloud Nine’ has light blue foliage growing 5 to 7 feet tall with large airy flower heads that rise another 1 to 2 feet in mid- to late summer. It is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Heavy Metal’ has an upright, narrow growth habit with airy flowers and grows 4 to 5 feet tall. The metallic blue foliage turns yellow in fall. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Shenandoah’ has deep green leaves tipped with purple in summer and turns a burgundy purple in fall. Flowers are reddish pink. This variety grows to only 3 to 4 feet tall. Both this and the following cultivar are excellent substitutes for the invasive Japanese blood grass, a type of cogongrass. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is similar to ‘Shenandoah’ with a more upright and narrow form. It matures between 4 to 5 feet in height. USDA Zones: 5 to 9

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides): Beautiful, cream to pink, bottlebrush shaped flower heads appear from mid to late summer above fine, arching mounded foliage 3 to 4 feet tall. It prefers sun and moisture, but needs well-drained soil. Fountain grass reseeds and may be invasive into natural areas.

  • ‘Hameln’ is compact, growing to only 2 feet tall. It performs best in the Piedmont. USDA Zones: 4 to 9
  • ‘Little Bunny’ grows to only 1 foot tall in full sun to part shade. USDA Zones: 5-9
  • ‘Moudry’ has striking black flower spikes in late summer to early fall. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall. This variety reseeds abundantly, but usually does not come true from seed. USDA Zones: 5-9

Chinese Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale): The soft pink or white flower spikes appear from late spring through fall above blue green foliage only 1½ feet tall. It spreads slowly by rhizomes, but rarely reseeds.

  • ‘Karley Rose’ is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well drained soils in full sun, and will get 2 to 3 feet tall. The pink flower spikes appear in the summer. USDA Zones: 5-8
  • ‘Tall Tails’ grows 4 to 5 feet tall in full sun with average, medium moisture, well-drained soil. It has showy, pinkish-white flower spikes from June to September. USDA Zones: 5 to 8

Annual Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum): Grown as an annual throughout South Carolina, it will get 4 to 5 feet tall by summers end. The striking purplish pink flowers are produced continuously through summer. Fountain grass grows best in full sun and moist, well-drained, fertile soil, and is popular for use in mixed container gardens. These grasses are only cold hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 10.

  • ‘Fireworks’ has burgundy, hot pink, green, and white variegated leaves. It typically grows 3 to 4 feet tall with burgundy blooms spikes in June.
  • ‘Rubrum’ has dark burgundy-red foliage and bloom spikes and grows 3 to 5 feet tall.
  • ‘Rubrum Compacta’ grows 2½ to 3 feet tall, with even finer foliage, but is not quite as red as ‘Rubrum’.
  • ‘Burgundy Giant’ is a hybrid with very broad, deep red foliage and maroon flower spikes. It is a robust grower and will get 5 to 6 feet tall.

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans): This adaptable tall, upright native grass blooms with narrow, dark gold flower plumes in late summer.

Foliage turns golden tan in the fall. Prefers full sun and rich, moist well drained soil, but tolerates most soil. Plants reseed, but are not invasive. Indian grass is the state native grass of South Carolina. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

  • ‘Sioux Blue’ has stiff, upright blue-gray foliage and will grow 3 to 5 feet tall.
  • ‘Indian Steel’ grows 3 to 5 feet tall with slender, blue-green leaves.

Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii): The fine-textured leaves arch to form a wide clump 3 to 5 feet tall. It flowers in late summer. This grass prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Giant sacaton is native to the southwestern U.S. and is an excellent native substitute in place of Miscanthus. It is semi-evergreen in mild climates and is tolerant to salt exposure and drought. USDA Zones: 3 to 9

Giant Needle Grass (Stipa gigantea): The flower stems are 5 to 6 feet tall, arching and airy, with gold dangling flowers in early to mid summer. The narrow evergreen foliage grows 2 feet tall. This grass prefers sun with moist, well-drained soil. USDA Zones: 6 to 10

Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata): This native Southern beach grass tolerates harsh growing conditions and stabilizes dunes. Gray-green sharp leaves grow 3 to 8 feet tall are topped by arching flower stems. This grass prefers full sun and well-drained sandy soil. Do not fertilize sea oats. Never collect or purchase wild collected plants, as they are protected by state law. Any person violating this law will be subject to fines and possible imprisonment. USDA Zones: 7b to 11

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a native grass with blue-green foliage.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Side Oats Gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula) is a native grass that is drought tolerant.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foersterˈ) with mature seed heads.
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Upland River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in a part shade garden.
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechola macra ‘Aureola’) is a colorful groundcover to brighten shady areas.
Barbara H. Smith, ©HGIC 2017, Clemson University

Hairgrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has beautiful white or pink blooms in October.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is an excellent non-invasive substitute for bamboo.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Mexican Feather Grass (Nessella tenuissima) grows in a soft, weeping mound.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Cloud Nine Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’) has light blue foliage and blooms in late summer.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Hameln fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) prefers a sunny location with moist, well-drained soil.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Purple fountain grass (Penisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is planted as an annual in South Carolina.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is often seen along sunny roadsides.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Giant sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) is a native grass that is an excellent substitute for Maidengrass (Miscanthus sp.) Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Sea oats (Uniola paniculata) are protected by state law. Any person violating this law will be subject to fines and possible imprisonment.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Variegated Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Variegata’) has narrow, dark green leaves with creamy-white margins.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’) will grow in moist soils in part to full shade.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Species & Cultivars of Grass-like Plants

Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus): Fine grass-like, foot tall semi-evergreen leaves give a texture similar to mondo grass, but thrive in constantly moist or wet soil. They will grow in ordinary garden soil in part shade, but need more moisture in full sun.

  • ‘Licorice’ has evergreen licorice scented leaves. This variety will grow in part sun to light shade and reaches a height of 1 to 1½ feet tall. USDA Zones: 5 to 10
  • ‘Minimus Aureus’ spreads slowly by rhizomes and matures at 4 inches tall. The bright green and gold foliage has a citrus-like smell when crushed. USDA Zones: 5 to 10
  • ‘Ogon’ has yellow leaves that are especially bright in spring and fall. The mature height is 15 inches, and it will grow in full sun to shade with the best foliage color in part to full shade. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Variegata’ reaches a height of 1 to 1½ feet and features narrow dark green leaves with creamy-white margins. USDA Zones: 5 to 9

Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii): This grass-like plant is grown for its foot tall slender leaves. It grows best in part shade or shade, and in moist or wet soil.

  • ‘Goldband’ is evergreen, with stiff, brightly striped, white and green leaves. It does well in sun to shade with even moisture. USDA Zones: 5-9
  • ‘Ice Dance’ has dark green leaves with white margins that matures at 6-12 inches tall. It grows best in partial sum to shade in moist areas. USDA Zones: 5-9
  • ‘Variegata’ has green and yellow striped leaves. It will grow 1 to 1½ feet tall in moist soils in part to full shade. USDA Zones: 5 to 9

Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica): This herbaceous perennial has wide, linear foliage. Small blue flowers bloom in the spring and summer, followed by turquoise berries in the fall. It grows best in full to part shade and tolerates drought, salt, and most soil conditions. USDA Zones: 9 to 10

  • ‘Baby Bliss’ is a compact variety with blue-green foliage that grows to 1 foot in height. It has pale violet flowers in the spring, followed by purple berries.
  • ‘Variegata’ has wide green leaves with contrasting yellow stripes. It grows 3½ feet tall.

Matt Rush (Lomandra species): Matt rush is in the asparagus family and is dioecious (separate male and female plants). This low maintenance evergreen will grow in sun or shade and is salt and drought tolerant. USDA Zones: 8 to 11

  • ‘LM300’ Breeze™ has fine, bright green foliage. It will get 2½ to 3 feet tall with an arching growth habit.

Undesirable or Invasive Ornamental Grasses

There are a number of undesirable or non-native invasive ornamental grasses that are commonly used in the landscape, such as maidengrass (Miscanthus sinense), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), giant reed (Arundo donax), and weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula). These grasses reseed freely and are not recommended for use in the landscape due to their ability to escape into the natural environment. This in turn will displace native grasses and plants that are important as a food source for pollinating insects and other wildlife.

For example, Japanese bloodgrass will revert to the highly invasive green form, cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica). It is illegal in South Carolina to sell, distribute, or plant Japanese bloodgrass.

Any sightings of Japanese bloodgrass or cogongrass must be reported to the Clemson Department of Plant Industry at 864-646-2140 for positive identification and eradication. Possible locations for infestations of cogongrass may also be emailed to the address below:

For more information on cogongrass, refer to HGIC 2318, Cogongrass.

The South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council has an up-to-date list on invasive plants to be aware of in South Carolina.

South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council

Maidengrass (Miscanthus sinense) is a non-native, invasive grass that is commonly used in the landscape trade.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’) is not recommended for use in the landscape as it will revert to the highly invasive green form, cogongrass.
Karen Russ,©2009 GIC. Clemson Extension

Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrical) is one of the ten worst weeds in the world.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Ornamental grasses are increasingly being used in our landscapes as an alternative to shrubs. In any region of the country, you can find native grasses that do quite well, and add textural variety and a soft, flowing aspect to the garden.

These plants are particularly attractive when planted in groups. Examples include any of the many miscanthus varieties, blue fescue (Festuca glauca), and Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima).

A few are evergreen in the southernmost parts of the United States. But most are deciduous, rewarding gardeners year after year with fresh blades in solid or variegated green, red, and coppery colors, as well as prolific and attractive plumes and seedheads.

And while largely maintenance-free, many of these plants do benefit from an annual haircut. Let’s learn more about how to trim them up for maximum growth and beauty.

Enjoy Them Throughout Winter

While you likely won’t do any irreparable harm if you trim ornamentals back in the fall, we recommend you wait until late winter or early spring before you bring out the shears.

Many of these plants — especially those with spent plumes and attractive seed heads — offer alluring winter interest, particularly if snow or ice graces their foliage.

Keeping the leaves around also protects the crown of the plant throughout the winter, but you do want to prune the old growth before the new growth begins. Leaving the dead material on too long can impair the crown’s warming and delay new growth by as long as three weeks.

If you delay the haircut until after new shoots have appeared, you’ll want to trim the old material carefully. If you cut the new blades, they’ll have a raggedy, unnatural appearance all season.

Here in Austin, we prune our big grasses back in late January. Floridians can start chopping in early January, while our northern friends may have to wait until later in spring.

How Low Should You Go?

Start with a very sharp pair of hedge clippers, such as these from Fiskars, available via Amazon.

The 10-inch blades on these clippers will help you to get through any clump of grass quickly. Be sure to sharpen your blades frequently, as the grass will dull them.

Some gardeners use a hedge trimmer or even a chainsaw on older and tougher grass clumps.

Next, put on a long-sleeved shirt; the blades can be quite sharp!

Fiskars 9191 Power Lever 8-Inch Hedge Shears With Soft Grip Handle

Tightly tie twine, rope, or a bungee cord around the clump, about two feet up from ground level, and cut below the tie. This makes it easier to access the clump as you cut it, and it also provides you with a neat, tidy bundle to carry away and dispose of.

How short you cut these plants depends on whether they are cool-season or warm-season grasses. While the cool-season varieties grow best when temperatures are 60 to 70°F, the warm-season grasses like it hot, and prefer temperatures in the 80 to 95°F range.

Warm-season grasses that are taller than 3 feet should be cut back to 4 to 6 inches from ground level. Shorter mature plants can be cut back to about 3 inches.

Prune cool-season grasses back by two-thirds.

The Greens Get a Rake

Some ornamentals, such as Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides), are evergreen in some parts of the country. For these types, just rake through them a couple times a season with gloved hands to draw out any dead material.

If an evergreen grass grows to be too large, you can cut it back every couple of years. And of course, clip out the occasional dead blade as you encounter it.

Low Maintenance and Attractive

Elegant and flowy, ornamental grasses make a visually appealing addition to modern landscapes.

Cut them back as winter wanes and you’ll be rewarded with fresh and bright blades in springtime, and attractive plumes of seedheads in late summer and fall.

Do you have any of these types of plants in your landscape? When do you cut them back? Tell us about it in the comments section below, and learn more about ornamental grasses here.


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Product photo via Fiskars. Uncredited photos: .

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

Believe it or not, wintertime is a perfect time for ornamental grass care!

Not only is it easy to do, cutting back in the winter lets you get a head start before the onslaught of spring landscaping and garden chores hit hard.

By mid-winter, ornamental grasses have gone completely dormant.

By winter, many ornamental grasses start to wither.

And with the snow, wind, and winter weather, many start to look quite bleak.

It makes it the perfect time to trim them back for the new year!

Ornamental Grass Care – Cutting Back In The Winter

One of the many advantages of ornamental grasses are they extremely hardy and tolerant.

Nearly all ornamental grasses can be cut back anytime from early fall to late Spring.

Even if a grass becomes too large during the growing season, they can be pruned for shape. Simple shear off a bit of top growth as needed.

Ornamental Grass Care Tips -Grasses can be cut back nearly anytime from fall to spring.

Even better, they require little to no fertilization.

One word of caution. If you live a colder climate, be sure to grow varieties that can handle your winter.

Some varieties of red and purple grasses are marketed as perennials. Unfortunately, that is only true for warmer winter climates. See : 4 Great Ornamental Grass Varieties For Your Landscape

Just always be sure to read the labels to be sure they are good for your growing zone.

Pruning Grasses In The Winter

So that leads us to winter pruning.

Although many choose cut back their grasses in the fall, ornamental grasses are a wonderful plant to leave up through at least the early winter months.

There are hundreds of varieties of ornamental grass. They make for wonderful accent or focal points.

First, they provide a lot of cover for birds and small animals. This is true especially in extremely cold climates.

Second, they add a tremendous amount of texture to an often barren winter landscape. They can also serve as a bit of a wind and snow break.

But as mentioned, by mid to late winter, they begin to fade and can become quite unsightly.

At this point, it’s time for a little winter pruning!

The Ins and Outs of Cutting Back Ornamental Grass

Grasses can be cut back to ground level. However, it is better to leave a bit of the old growth in place.

Cut grasses back during winter to about 6″to 12″ height.

It helps keep a bit of interest in the landscape. In addition, it provides protection for roots, and helps anchor new shoots in the spring.

The Tools Of The Trade

There are several great options for tools when cutting back ornamental grass.

The choice really depends on the size of the plant.

For small or young plants, a good pair of shears will easily do the trick.

Hedge trimmers work great for cutting back grasses. Cordless trimmers are a great choice for mobility and ease!

For mid-size to larger ornamental grass plants, a pair of electric or gas hedge trimmers work amazingly well. Cordless trimmers make the chore a simple breeze!

And for over-sized plants – nothing works like a well sharpened chain saw!

As an alternative method, ornamental grasses can also be burnt back.

Although it does harm the plant, this is rarely an option in neighborhoods and communities.

As with any fire, extreme caution should be used if this method is implemented. Winter is helpful for this because the risk of fire spread is minimized.

Ornamental Grass Care – Dividing Ornamental Grass Clumps

Mature plants sometimes require a bit of extra maintenance to keep them looking good. Dividing large clumps will keep plants healthy for years.

Dividing ornamental grasses should not be done until the ground has thawed. Pruning them in winter however is a great way to be prepared for when the soil warms enough for dividing.

This over-sized clump can easily be divided.

Ornamental grass clumps grow from the inside out. That means new growth is always be on the outside ring of the plant.

After a few years, you may notice the middle area beginning to die off. When this happens, it is time to dig your plant up to prune the dead portions out.

Ornamental Grass Care – Creating New Plants

This is also a great time to create new starts of your ornamental grass!

When digging up to trim out dead growth, or to create new transplants, start by digging up the entire ball of grass.

Remove and discard the “dead” center portion to the compost pile. Only utilize sections of the newer, outer growth area for replanting.

Ornamental Grass Care Tips. Ornamental grasses can make for great potted plants too!

Using a shovel, slice off portions of the outer rings and replant.

The larger the slice, the larger the first year plant will be. Simple replant wherever needed, and as spring warms, the plants will shoot up new growth.

You will be surprised how many “new” plants you can start from an old clump.

Why Ornamental Grasses Are A Great Choice

Ornamental grasses have become extremely popular in the home landscape.

They are a great way to add instant texture, contrast and lasting beauty. And they fit into nearly any landscape.

The beauty of fountain grass. The ease of ornamental grass care has helped to make them quite attractive for landscaping use.

Ornamental grasses are also an excellent choice for filling in large expanses of open space.

The varieties come in a near endless selection of sizes, shapes and colors that can complement almost any outdoor situation. From purple to red and green, to tall, small, and in between, there is something to satisfy any taste.

Many varieties can grow upwards of 5 to 7 feet tall in just their first season.

Its easy to see why they have become so popular!

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