Should ornamental grasses be cut back in the fall?

Late winter is the perfect time to cut back ornamental grasses. Not only does it let you get a head start on your outdoor chores, it also is a great time to start creating new plants for your landscape !

Ornamental grass varieties are a wonderful addition to any landscape. They provide color, texture, beauty and interest the whole year round. Especially when left in tact through late fall and early winter.

When left to stand in the fall and early winter, ornamental grasses can provide great interest in the landscape.

Although grasses can be cut back safely anytime from fall to late spring, allowing them to stand throughout most of the winter has several advantages.

For one, the plumes and foliage add big interest to an otherwise barren landscape. But even more importantly, they provide important cover for wildlife from winter’s harsh cold and wind.

Why Late Winter Is The Perfect Time To Cut Back Grasses

But as late winter begins to give way to early spring, it becomes the perfect time to head out and cut them back.

By late winter, the foliage of ornamental plants begin to look a bit ragged.

Why late winter? For starters, by February, most grasses start to lose their luster from wind, snow and ice. It has taken a toll on plumes and foliage as they weaken and start to fall off.

And getting out and cutting them back now allows you to clear the beds before the fronds and plumes scatter everywhere.

It also allows light and air to the base of plants, letting new shoots come sprout quickly as soon as the warm weather hits.

We have created hundreds of “new” ornamental plants by dividing our grasses when cutting back. It is a great, budget-friendly way to add plants to your landscape.

But most importantly of all, cutting back grasses while they are dormant gives you the opportunity to dig up oversize clumps to divide them into new starts. New starts that will hit the ground growing as soon as spring rolls around!

It is an incredible way to keep your grasses healthy, and at the same time, create tons of new plants for free! In fact, we have used this process to create over 300 new ornamental grass plants all over our farm – all from just a handful of original plants!

How To Cut Ornamental Grass Care

Cutting back grasses is actually quite simple, especially if you have the right equipment.

Although you can cut grasses back by hand with shears, a battery powered reciprocating saw or hedge trimmer will work wonders to speed things up.

The same hedge shears that cut back shrubs are great for cutting back large grasses.

We use a reciprocating saw with a 12″ construction blade to quickly cut back small grasses, and electric hedge shears for larger clumps.

Electric shears, hedge trimmers and even a chain saw will work as well. See: 20 Volt Electric Hedge Trimmers

Cutting Ornamental Grasses Back – How Far To Cut Clumps Back

Although grasses can be cut all the way to ground level, leaving a few inches above the ground is best. It not only keeps a bit of interest in the landscape, but gives a nice base for the new shoots to have for support.

Cutting the grasses back to a few inches above the soil line helps insulate the roots, and provides a bit of interest in the beds until spring.

Once cut, the dead plant material is a great source of material to add to your compost pile. Grasses can be slow to decompose when left whole, so be sure to chop them up before adding to speed decomposition.

Can Grasses Be Burned Off?

Yes, plants can be burned back in lieu of cutting back. However, it can be extremely dangerous to nearby structures and plants. It is also illegal in many areas to open burn, just one more reason cutting ornamental grasses back is the better, and safer choice.

How To Divide Clumps To Form New Plants:

When clumps become too large, late winter / early spring is the time to divide to create new plants.

You can see the center portion of this grass has died out. When digging up, this portion will not grow new plants and should be discarded to the compost pile

Ornamental grasses grow from the inside out. That means new growth will always occur on the outside rings of the clumps, while the center of old clumps dies off.

Begin by digging out the entire root ball of the clump. If it is too large, it can be dug out in sections. The center dead portions can be put directly into the compost pile.

Take a sharp spade to slice through the roots, and then simply replant where needed. As the weather warms in springs, each clump will produce a new plant.

Now it’s time to create new plants! You can create quite a few new starts from an old clump. A sharp shovel or the reciprocating saw makes quick work of splitting them up.

Simply dig a hole for each new clump, and cover around with soil. They do not require any additional soil amending or fertilizers at all. Come spring, they will be ready to grow!

Ornamental grass cuttings are also great to use as focal points in container plantings as well. Simply plant into the center of a big container, and as spring rolls around, it will come to life. See : An Amazing Low-Cost Way To Create Gorgeous Planters

So get out in the landscape, cut back, divide and replant those grasses while you can!

As always, feel free to email us at [email protected] with comments or questions. To receive our 3 Home, Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up below for our free email list. This article may contain affiliate links.

How & Why To Cut Back Ornamental Grasses In Late Winter / Early Spring Tagged on: cutting back ornamental grasses dividing ornamental grasses how to cut back ornamental grasses ornamental grass care ornamental grasses in the winter when to cut back ornamental grasses

Tips For Fountain Grass Pruning: Cutting Back Fountain Grass

Fountain grasses are a reliable and pretty addition to the home landscape, adding drama and height, but their nature is to die back to the ground, which causes confusion for many gardeners. When do you prune fountain grass? In the fall, winter or in the spring? And what steps are involved in cutting back fountain grass? Continue reading to learn more about fountain grass pruning.

When to Cut Back Fountain Grass

The best time when to trim fountain grass back is in the late winter or early spring. The exact timing is not as important as just making sure that you prune fountain grass back before it starts actively growing.

You want to avoid doing fountain grass pruning in the fall, as the plant has not yet died back all the way. If you try to cut back fountain grass in the fall, you may cause it to go into a growth spurt, which will make it more vulnerable to the coming cold weather and will reduce its chances of surviving the winter.

Steps for Cutting Back Fountain Grass

The first step when you trim fountain grass back is to tie up the dead stems. This is just to make the chore of cutting back fountain grass a little easier because you won’t have to clean up all the fallen stems.

Next step in fountain grass pruning is to use a cutting tool, such as pruning shears or hedge clippers, to cut back the stem bundle. Prune fountain grass about 4 to 6 inches above the ground. The remaining stems will be quickly hidden under the new growth.

That’s all there is to it. The steps to trim fountain grass are easy and quick and taking the time to cut back fountain grass will result in a nicer looking “fountain” in the summer.

Activity: Cutting back ornamental grasses in late winter

Why: To ensure proper growth of ornamental grasses, you will need to cut them back each year before new growth emerges. If you wait too long, the grasses likely will delay new growth by up to three weeks. This occurs because old leaf blades keep the crowns from warming up properly. Also, new growth can begin to grow into old blades, making it impossible not to cut back both.

How: 1. Choose a sunny day so you can see any new growth coming out of the ornamental grass and to make sure it is dry. Locate any grassy, green growth coming out of the ornamental grass clump.

2. Wrap tape or tie twine around the circumference of the grass. Any wide tape will do, as long as it’s sticky enough to keep a hold on the grass blades. A strong masking tape is preferable if you plan to compost the grass. Depending on the width and height of the ornamental grass, you might need to wrap tape or tie off with twine in 2-3 positions along the height of the grass and possibly divide the grass blades into 2-3 bundles.

3. Now that your ornamental grasses are bundled neatly, take your shears and prune the grass. You can lean the ornamental grass bundle away from you as you cut. If your ornamental grass is well established, you may prefer to use a power hedge trimmer. Either way, prebundling the grass will make it easier than grabbing handfuls of grass blades and hand pruning.

Cut all dead blades on the ornamental grass clump as low as 4-6 inches from the ground. Don’t worry if it looks unkempt with just the green leaves showing, as the clump of grass will put out new shoots and fill in within a few weeks. If no new shoots are showing, then cut evenly 4 inches above the ground.

When: The best time to cut back your ornamental grasses is right before the new season’s growth begins. In most regions, this is late winter or early spring. Many ornamental grasses are attractive through winter, while others might not show as well. If your ornamental grasses don’t remain attractive during winter, you can cut them back in late fall.

Some ornamental grasses are evergreen and won’t tolerate cutting back well. If you have evergreen ornamental grasses, don’t cut them back; instead, simply remove the old leaves or blades in early spring.

What’s needed: Gloves and long-sleeved shirt for protection from sharp grass blades and dry debris. Sharp garden shears, pruning shears or power shears. Sturdy tape, twine or bungee cords to bundle the grasses into sheaves.

For further information on ornamental grasses adapted to the Rocky Mountain region, and design and care, go to and select CSU Extension Gardening Series Fact Sheet No. 7.232 Ornamental Grasses.

When you have questions, CSU has research-based answers. Get answers to you horticultural questions by calling the Master Gardener Volunteer Help Desk at 520-7684 or emailing [email protected] Note: Volunteers are “on call” during our winter hours. Please allow 7-10 days for a response.

Ornamental Grasses

If you’re looking for something different in your landscape, ornamental grasses can’t be beat for their variety and versatility.

The term “ornamental grass” refers to true grasses, as well as other plants that have a grass-like appearance.

Ornamental grasses offer something for everyone, whether it’s as groundcover, a border, or accent plants.

Ornamental grasses are either clump-forming or creeping. Clump-forming grasses are also called bunch grasses. They grow in compact tufts, with their bases gradually increasing in size. Creeping grasses are also called running and spreading grasses.

Ornamental grasses can be annual or perennial, and come in a wide range of sizes, from a few inches to many feet in height. They come in different colors and textures, and many have attractive flowers.

Many gardeners use ornamental grasses for their easy maintenance, but new varieties are more than just workhorses—they make a showstopping visual statement.

Many cultivars of fountain grass, including ‘Princess Caroline’, have wide, deep burgundy leaves that make a bold statement in the garden. If bright colors are your thing, try a cultivar like ‘Fireworks’ with pink and magenta variegated leaves. Several types of ornamental millet provide both striking foliage and dramatic flower spikes.

Other grasses offer garden drama when planted en masse. Muhly grass blooms create a dramatic cloud of pink each fall that you can’t miss.

Pruning Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses often have attractive winter characteristics that should be preserved through the colder months. But the weather can leave them looking a bit ragged. Since many grasses keep their showy flower stalks through the winter, wait to prune until late winter or early spring, just prior to new shoot growth.

In north and central Florida, prune ornamental grasses in February and March. In South Florida, you may wish to cut back or trim ornamental grasses in January or February.

For deciduous grasses like some Miscanthus, the old foliage may be completely removed with a chainsaw or hedge shears. For evergreen grasses like Fakahatchee grass, the ragged, dead leaves can be removed by combing the grass with a pitchfork.


  • An Introduction to Ornamental Grass and Grasslikes for Southern Gardeners
  • Ornamental Grasses — UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Considerations for Selections and Use of Ornamental Grasses

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Add a Thrilling Porch Planter for Fall
  • Bamboo Muhly
  • Border Grasses
  • Fakahatchee Grass
  • Flax Lily
  • Lemongrass
  • Lovegrass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Muhly Grass
  • Pampas Grass
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • River Oats

Purple fountain grass – Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” is an ornamental landscape grass known for its burgundy or purple leaf blades and soft, fuzzy like flowers.

Its foxtail plumes and striking burgundy foliage show up well when surrounded by contrasting plants. This herbaceous perennial grass is heat tolerant and grows well in poor soil.

Grow fountain grasses as a hedge, back of a border plant or specimen. Growing the grass is easy requiring little maintenance once established.

Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” reaches a height of 3′-5′ feet with a 2′ to 4′ feet spread. Purple ornamental grass typically blooms in July.

It’s purplish bloom spikes, succeeded by burgundy or purplish tingled heads, are soft to touch and cry out to be swayed by the autumn breeze.

Planting The Purple Fountain Grass

Purple fountain grass is grown in nearly all types of soil. However, it will do exceptionally well in rich and well-drained soil.

Plant the fountain grass at any time, however, spring is the best time. The grass will tolerate some light shade though it enjoys the full sunlight.

Look for an area in your garden that receives full sun, as the plant prefers warmer conditions.

The grass should be given plenty of space in the garden, reaching 4′ feet tall, and spread to 2′ to 4′ feet wide. The ideal spacing is 3′ to 5′ feet.

When planting, dig a deep and wide hole large enough to accommodate the roots. Once planted water the grass thoroughly.

For those in other lower growing zones true pampas grass – Cortaderia selloana – is an option for those desiring grasses in their landscape.

Watering The Grass

The grass is drought tolerant, however water once or twice a week until plants are established.

Give time for the soil to dry to the touch between each watering. In areas that receive rain occasionally and then, you do not need to water the grass that has already established.

Fertilizing Fountain Grass

Although the fountain grass is hardy and grows well even in poor soil, fertilizing will boost its growth.

The grass requires additional nutrients when flowering. Flowering is the ideal time to apply a general-purpose slow-release fertilizer.

Alternative Varieties For Purple Fountain Grass

Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” produces beautiful blooms with purple foliage.

However, other grass varieties from the same genus may serve as good alternatives in the garden if “Rubrum” is not planted. Some of them include:

  • Red Fountain Grass
  • Chinese Fountain Grass (Pennisetum Alopecuroide)
  • Oriental Fountain Grass (Pennisetum Orientale)
  • Feathertop Fountain Grass (Pennisetum Villosum)
  • Cherry Sparkler Fountain Grass

More on Uses for Ornamental Grasses, the hardy Ophiopogon Mondo grass, and stunning Pink Muhly Grass.

Purple Fountain Grass Care: How To Overwinter

The fireworks grass is indigenous to southern Asia and Africa. Considered tender perennial the grass cannot survive cold winters.

Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” An Annual or Perennial?

It is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zone 9 and higher growing as a perennial, although it will grow in zones 7-8 given adequate winter protection.

Individuals wanting to grow Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” and live in colder climates will have to enjoy its beautiful color and vase-shaped appearance in late summer and fall as an annual.

Growing the grass in containers allows overwintering indoors.

Tips For Overwintering:

Treat the grass as a houseplant, place it in a relatively cool room and give it enough sunlight


Store it in a cool, but not freezing location such as a cellar

Water sparingly and never allow the soil in the soil to dry out. Take plants outdoors in the spring.

When To Cut Back Purple Fountain Grass

The best time to trim the purple grass is in the early spring or late winter.

Although exact timing is not very important, make sure you prune the pennisetum grass before it starts growing actively.

Avoid pruning during the fall as the grass has not yet dried back all the way.

Cutting the grass in fall can cause it to go into a growth spurt, making it more venerable to the coming of cold weather. This reduces its chances of surviving the winter.

Procedure For Cutting The Grass Back

  • Tie up the dead stems and blades of grass. This will make the cutting exercise easier since cleaning up fallen stems easier.
  • Use hedge clippers or pruning shears to cut back the stem bundle
  • Pruning the grass 4-6 inches above the ground. New growth will quickly hide the stems.

Where To Find Purple Fountain Grass

You can find them and other warm-season grasses at local nurseries, online stores or from neighbors who have already planted the grass

  • Look for a healthy established plant
  • Divide in late spring or early autumn
  • If starting from seed, sow the seeds in early spring at 55° to 65° degrees F
  • Plant separated seedlings in holes with well-drained soil spaced 3′ to 5′ feet apart
  • For best results, add fertilizer while planting
  • After planting water the grass in thoroughly

Note: Starting the grass from seed is a long process, as seeds take a long time to germinate. The easiest way to start the grass is dividing an already established plant. These divided plants tend to establish faster without problems.

One question asked before buying rubrum grass – Is It Toxic to cats and safe for dogs?

The ASPCA does not list Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” as toxic to dogs or cats.

Grass Pests And Diseases

Pest and diseases rarely affect purple fountain grass. Deer usually leave it alone, making it a deer-resistant ornamental grass.

The species from which the Pennisetum Rubrum cultivar was developed is considered as an invasive plant. However, this cultivar is not considered invasive.

Uses For Purple Fountain Grass

  • Its beauty makes it popular in a mixed planting, often in container gardens
  • Used as border plantings with several plants together
  • Used as stand-alone specimen plants as focal points
  • Jazz up a foundation for summer
  • excellent plant for berm landscaping and landscape mounds

Besides, its autumn seed heads are very attractive like maiden grass, which is very useful in fall arrangements. Cut and dry feathery plumes (purple fountain grass seeds heads) for flower arrangements.

How to Keep Purple Fountain Grass Alive Through the Winter

Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides setaceum rubrum) is a member of the family Poaceae, which includes grass. Native to tropical regions of Africa, the Middle East and southwest Asia, purple fountain grass prefers to grow in warm, subtropical and tropical regions of the U.S. U.S.D.A. planting zones 8 through 10 can treat purple fountain grass as a perennial, but cooler regions will need to treat it as an annual. It will not survive in temperatures below 20 degrees F. Purple fountain grass is a warm season, ornamental grass that will beautify any landscape or garden.

Grow purple fountain grass in a container if you live in areas where the temperature dips below 20 degrees F. in winter. Bring the container inside to a warm, protected area that receives light, when the weather begins to turn cool. Allow the grass to turn completely brown and trim to the ground. Keep the container watered every two weeks, while it is wintering.

Allow the purple fountain grass to completely turn brown and die, if you live in zones where the grass is a perennial. Wait until it has completely died off in late fall, before trimming.

Use hedge trimmers or pruning shears and cut the purple fountain grass down to the ground. Rake up the cut grass clippings. Be careful while trimming that you do not expose the grasses root system.

Mulch over the grasses roots to maintain warmth in the ground and around the root system, if a frost or freeze is predicted. Water the planting site deeply, the day before the cold weather arrives in your area. Rake away the mulch, once the weather has warmed.

Water the purple fountain grass once per week during winter. Do not keep the planting site soggy or the grass will develop root rot and die.

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