Ornamental grass dead in middle

Ornamental Grass Center Is Dying: What To Do With A Dead Center In Ornamental Grass

Ornamental grasses are trouble-free plants that add texture and motion to the landscape. If you notice the centers dying in ornamental grass, it just means the plant is getting older and a little tired. A dead center in ornamental grass is typical when plants have been around for a while.

Centers Dying in Ornamental Grass

The best way to prevent ornamental grass dying in middle is to divide the plant every two or three years. However, if your ornamental grass center is dying, you may need to dig and divide the entire plant.

The best time to divide ornamental grass is in spring, before new growth emerges. Be sure to have a sturdy, sharp spade on hand; digging a large clump isn’t an easy task. Here’s how to go about it.

Fixing a Dead Center in Ornamental Grass

Water the ornamental grass thoroughly a couple of days before dividing. The plant will be healthier and easier to dig.

Prepare new planting spots if you want to plant the divided sections. You can also share the sections with friends or neighbors, but they should be planted as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep them cool and moist.

Cut the plant to a height of 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm.). Insert a sharp spade straight down into the soil a few inches from the clump. Repeat, working your way in a circle around the ornamental grass. Dig deeply to cut the roots.

Lift the plant carefully, using the spade or a knife to cut any remaining roots. You can leave a healthy clump in its original spot, or dig and replant the section. If the plant is very large, you may need to lift a chunk at a time. This won’t damage the plant, but try to leave each section with several health roots for replanting.

Discard or compost the dead center. Water the newly planted section(s) deeply, then mulch around the plant with organic material such as compost, shredded bark, dry grass clippings or chopped leaves.

Fountain Grass Trimming – How To Treat Brown Tips On Fountain Grass

Fountain grass is a common and extensive group of ornamental grasses. They are easy to grow and generally unfussy about their site, but occasional brown tips on fountain grass can be a clue to incorrect site conditions, cultural care or simply a natural part of the plant’s physiology. There are several browning fountain grass causes, so read on for a few identification and diagnostic tools.

Why is My Fountain Grass Browning?

If you are unfamiliar with the types of ornamental grass, you may ask:” Why is my fountain grass browning.” Fountain grass is considered a warm season grass and it is natural for the previous season’s growth to turn brown at the end of the growing season. In most regions, fountain grass trimming is necessary to enhance appearance and allow spring growth to shine without a frame of dead blades.

If cool temperatures have arrived and you notice brown tips on fountain grass, it is likely just signaling the end of the growing season. As a warm season grass, older fountain grass growth responds by dying back. This is normal and allows for new growth to have sufficient space, air and light in spring. Fountain grass trimming is helpful and visually appealing to remove the dying grass at the end of the season or just as the new season begins.

Other browning fountain grass

causes may be overwatering, excess fertilizer, pot bound plants or burning caused by searing sunlight. Most of these causes are easy to remedy and should not affect the overall health of the plant significantly. To decide which situation may be causing the issue, you need to do a step-by-step evaluation of recent changes in the plant’s situation.

Fixing Brown Tips on Fountain Grass

If it is not the end of the season and you see browning on your grass, the causes are likely cultural or situational. Fountain grass can tolerate and even thrive in partial sun locations. In full sun or areas with extreme heat and bright light all day, the tips of the grass may burn. The simple solution is to dig the plant up and situate it where there is some protection from the hottest rays of the day.

You may also need to check the percolation of the site by digging a trench near the grass that is at least 3 inches (8 cm.) deep. Fill the hole with water and watch to see how quickly the water drains into soil. If water is still standing half an hour later, you will need to remove the plant and amend the planting site by adding some grit, such as fine horticultural sand or even compost. Dig it into a depth of at least 8 inches (20 cm.) to add porosity to soil and encourage drainage.

Excess fertilizer issues can be fixed by leaching water out of a container to remove excess salt build up which can harm roots.

How to Prune Browning Fountain Grass

It is not necessary for the plant’s health to remove the older grass, but it does improve the appearance of the plant when new growth arrives in spring. The most expedient method is to gather the leaf blades into a ponytail of sorts. This allows for easy, even cutting of all the leaves.

Cut the blades when the plant is dormant, either at the end of the season or just before new growth arrives. Cut the grass back with pruning shears or grass clippers. Remove old growth to 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) from the ground.

In cooler climates, you can mound this trimmed plant material over the root zone as a mulch to prevent any cold damage to roots or you can compost the leaves. Correct timing is the most important step in how to prune browning fountain grass. Grasses trimmed when actively growing reduces the amount of energy they can store for use over the winter and to fuel spring growth.

Caring for Ornamental Grasses

The two most common questions we get about Ornamental grasses are “When should I cut my grass back” and “How and when should I divide my ornamental grass?” This article goes through tips and techniques on cutting back and dividing grasses.

In recent years interest and use of ornamental grasses has exploded. Ornamental grasses can fit into almost any garden theme. Ornamental grasses lend height, movement, and long season color to the landscape. Along with the proliferation of ornamental grasses have come a host of questions on how to care for them properly. Our two most common questions are “Do I need to trim my grass back and if so when?” and “How and when should I divide my ornamental grass?” We will give you some general rules to follow when cutting back and dividing ornamental grasses.

Grasses are generally classified as cool season, warm season, or evergreen. The rules change just slightly depending on which type of grass you have. Cool-season grasses put on most of their growth in spring before temperatures begin exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit and in the fall when temperatures cool down. They generally maintain good color through the summer but won’t grow much when it is hot. Warm-season grasses won’t start growing until mid to late spring or even early summer. Their major growth and flowering happens when the weather is hot. They will usually turn shades of brown for the winter. Evergreen grasses are usually plants that look like grasses but aren’t actually classified as grasses. Plants like the sedges and carex are grass-like but not grasses.

I love rules of thumb, they make life much simpler than it would otherwise be. They help make sense out of the clutter of specific information. I found ornamental grasses rather confusing until I realized that there are a few rules of thumb that pertain to most of the grasses.

First Ornamental Grass Rule of Thumb: Cut back warm season grasses in fall or by mid to late spring.

Warm season grasses turn shades of brown as the weather turns colder. Once your warm season grasses turn brown you can trim them back at almost any time. If you like to tidy your garden in fall or if you live in an area where fire can be problematic trim warm season grasses so they are just a few inches tall. If you live in an area where fire generally isn’t a problem you can leave the dried grasses and seed heads in your garden for winter interest. Snow or ice encrusted ornamental grasses can be quite beautiful. If you leave the trimming until spring try to make sure to cut them back to the ground (you can leave a couple of inches) by late spring, before new growth begins. Not all ornamental grasses look good through the winter, trim back those that don’t look good in the fall.

Second Ornamental Grass Rule of Thumb: Cut back cool season grasses in very early spring.

Cool season grasses tend to look good even as the weather cools. Leave their foliage in place until spring and then as soon as the snow is gone cut them back. Leave about 1/3 of the plant in place. Trimming cool season grasses too harshly can irreparably harm the plant.

Now you know when, in general, to cut back ornamental grasses. However, how are you supposed to accomplish this? First find a good pair of gloves, thick leather gloves are probably best. Some ornamental grasses can have very sharp edges. For smaller grasses a pair of pruning shears will probably be sufficient. Trim about 2/3 of the plant for cool season grasses. For many grasses it is easier to tie the grass in a bundle before trimming, this makes clean up a snap. For short grasses this might not be possible.

If you have a large, established clump of grass, pruning shears probably aren’t going to be enough and gloves become essential. You may need to use a weed eater (use one with a blade rather than string), electric or gas powered hedge trimmers, or even a chain saw. Once again, tie the tops together for easier clean up, just toss the bundles in to your compost pile. If you have only one of these large grasses you can cut them back with pruning shears but it isn’t easy. I know. I’ve done it!

Dividing grasses is one way to increase the number of plants without spending additional money. Occasional division will help grasses remain active and growing and can help renew older grasses. Some grasses, over time, will die out in the center and dividing will rejuvenate the clump.

Third Ornamental Grass Rule of Thumb: Divide warm season grasses anytime spring through mid-summer.

All ornamental grasses should be divided when they are actively growing but not while they are flowering. If the plants are dormant when they are transplanted they won’t establish a good root system. Warm season grasses generally start growing in late spring or early summer and have their active growth period during the heat of the summer. Warm season grasses will tend to bloom in mid to late summer.

Fourth Ornamental Grass Rule of Thumb: Divide cool season grasses in spring or early fall.

Cool season grasses are actively growing in spring and fall. These grasses can be transplanted at either time of the year but early spring is probably the best time to divide. If you do divide them in the fall, be careful that the freeze/thaw cycles of winter don’t heave the plants out of the ground, this happened to a couple of my coral bells last winter.

Fifth Ornamental Grass Rule of Thumb: Divide evergreen grasses and grass-like plants in spring only

Evergreen grasses don’t ever go dormant. Dividing plants wounds them to some degree. For evergreen grasses this wounding will really affect their ability to live through the winter.

How exactly do you divide a grass? For smaller grasses it is very similar to dividing a perennial. You dig up the grass clump and then use your hands, a pair of pruning shears, a knife, or a sharp shovel or trowel to cut or pull the clump into several pieces. Make sure that each piece has some roots. Replant them before the roots dry out, you may need to cover the exposed roots to protect them on sunny days. Just a reminder that grass leaves can be very sharp, wear gloves to protect your hands. I can tell you from personal experience grass cuts can really hurt.

Larger grasses use the same basic principles but due to shear size and toughness can be harder to deal with. It can take a strong back, or three, to get some of these very large grasses out of the ground. Dig and/or pry the clump out of the ground (don’t be afraid of using a crow or pry bar) and then divide it into pieces, making sure each piece has some roots. An old hand or hack saw, an axe or hatchet (it may be easier to place the axe blade in one spot and then pound it through the grass clump using a large hammer or maul, I know I can never hit the same spot twice when swinging an axe), a very sharp shovel, a reciprocating or concrete saw, or a chain saw (this won’t be gentle on your grass and will tear it up a bit, a chain saw should be your last resort) can all be used to divide the plant into pieces. These big grasses are quite tough.

An alternate method would be to cut the grass to the ground then use an axe or other tool to cut it into wedges. Pry or dig the pieces out of the ground. Once these larger pieces are removed from the ground you can cut them into smaller pieces using sharp pruning shears.

If your main clump is still looking quite healthy and hasn’t outgrown its space, you can replicate the plant by removing small chunks of the grass from around the outer edge. This may be easier than dividing the entire plant.

Once you have the pieces removed from the main clump, trim off any dead material, replant the pieces, and water thoroughly. Newly divided grasses will need frequent watering while they become established. Once they are well rooted you should be able to decrease or quit watering.

Now that you’ve pried a monster from the ground, chopped it up into little pieces and planted the pieces all over the yard. Sit down with a cool glass of lemonade and bribe your spouse or a friend into rubbing those aching muscles!

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Keeping Ornamental Grasses Happy

If you don’t have an abundance of time to maintain your garden, ornamental grasses are a perfect plant choice. Most species are not picky about soil, though they appreciate good drainage, as do most plants. Once they’re established, grasses tend to be fairly drought tolerant, and are susceptible to few pests. Even deer don’t find most of them palatable.

See more of the beauty of ornamental grasses.

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Planting Basics: The best time for planting grasses is in the spring or fall. Choose a site with well-drained soil and a sunny exposure. Some warm-season grasses will do better if planted in the spring to allow the growing season to establish a good root system prior to winter.

Annual Chores: Leave your grasses standing through winter, then cut them back in spring before the new growth gets going. That way you can have a fourth season of enjoyment from your grasses, which may attract birds to the seed heads in winter.

A sturdy pair of handheld shears makes easy work of pruning smaller grasses. Use electric or gas-powered hedge trimmers for larger grasses or where the clumps have grown dense. Shear off the foliage so you have at least 2 to 3 inches of the clump remaining for smaller grasses, 4 to 5 inches for larger grasses.

Every 3 to 4 Years

After a few years in the garden, even the slower-growing grasses may grow out of their intended home. By spading off pieces of the parent plant, you can whittle it down to a more manageable size. Plus, you now have additional plants to spread around the garden or give to neighbors.

Divide grasses in early spring before the plant has put on much new growth. Start by shearing off last year’s growth, if you haven’t already. Using your spade, make a cut in the soil about an inch or so away from the clump. Then make several cuts straight down through the clump to portion off a piece. Lift out the new portion of grass, roots and all. Plant the new piece as soon as possible and fill in the hole you left by the parent plant with a mix of compost and soil.

Grass clumps may die out in the center as the plant ages. Periodic division, as described above, may prevent this, but if not, dig up the clump (in early spring before growth begins) and divide it. Split off a healthy piece of the clump and replant in the original growing site. The remainder of the clump can be broken up and planted elsewhere.

How to Rejuvenate Ornamental Grass

Ornamental grasses require little maintenance, but they eventually need rejuvenation. If your ornamental grass has a large dead space in the center or the grass has been flopping for the last few years, it is probably time to divide it. You may also want to reevaluate the site your plant is growing in. If the flower plumes (called inflorescences) are sporadic or nonexistent, the plant probably does not receive enough light and, in addition to being divided, could benefit from being moved altogether.

Cut back last year’s foliage before dividing. For small grasses, such as blue fescue (Festuca), use garden scissors or pruners to cut the grass back to a few inches. With larger grasses, tie rope around them to hold them in place. Large varieties, especially Miscanthus varieties, require stronger pruning tools, from hedge clippers to a weed trimmer or even a chainsaw. Cut larger varieties back to 6 to 8 inches.

Lift smaller grasses with a trowel or shovel, digging sufficiently under the clump so that you do not damage its roots. Larger grasses usually require more muscle. Well-established grasses may require, as the Proven Winners website attests, “a strong back, or three,” to lift plants out of the ground. Dig down under roots. Use a crowbar, if necessary, to get the clump out of the ground.

After the clump is lifted, divide it into sections with a good chunk of roots in each. Use a sharp knife for smaller grasses. Larger grasses may be divided with a shovel or with the spade fork method, a dividing technique Tracy DiSabato-Aust describes in her book “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” (Timber Press; 1998): Hold two spade forks back to back with the forks interlocked. With a single motion, move the handles in opposite directions and split the clump apart. If more muscle is needed, Proven Winners suggests an axe, a concrete saw or even a chainsaw as a last resort.

Take out any dead sections from the divisions. For smaller grasses, further division can often be made by gently loosening the roots, as long as there is enough of a root system for each planting.

Dig holes for divisions in chosen areas. Put planting mix into the holes, along with existing soil. Water the soil, and then plant your divisions to the depth they were in the original clump. Backfill the hole, tamping down lightly as you fill. Water the plant.

How to Transplant Ornamental Grass

Ornamental grass, such as monkey grass and miscanthus, grows big, fat, and wide in giant bushels. Some of these decorative grasses may have small bundles and some may have huge ones, but transplanting them works the same. The best time to transplant is early spring; the dates will change, based on your local climate.

Step 1 – Prepare

A common mistake is forgetting to prepare your planting places. Before you work on dividing and transplanting your ornamental grass, make sure to prepare. Dig holes wider and deeper than your root balls and backfill with fresh soil.

Step 2 – Access the Root Ball

Cut it down so you can access the root ball. Digging the entire grass up will be challenging. You’re better off transplanting it piece by piece in sections. So prune it all the way down.

Step 3 – Divide the Root Ball

Next, use a sharp blade like an ax or a spade to divide the root ball into however many pieces you wish to cultivate – each piece will be a new grass later.

Step 4 – Plant

Then plant your ornamental grass in its new home and water thoroughly. That’s all there is to it.

Step 5 – Deal with Difficulties

If you’re having trouble penetrating the root ball from the top, you can also opt to dig up the grass from below at one side and pull pieces off that way.

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