We no longer plant many maiden grasses
(Miscanthus varieties). It's just too much work to keep
after them, dividing them every 3 or 4 years.
We've told you this before: Divide them frequently or be
prepared to invest hours of work with pry-bars, a back-hoe or
dynamite to lift an older grass out of the ground so you can split
We plant instead:
• Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium),
• feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora),
• prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis),
• purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) and
others that put up less fight at division time and can stay in
place longer without becoming monsters.
Maiden grass also got onto our bad side by scratching. The leaf
edges are serrated and leave tiny scratches on our arms and
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We prebundle big grasses.
• Start by tying off to a handful of stalks within a foot of the
• Use strong cord of biodegradable material, not plastic or
nylon because you'll leave it in place and you don't want waste
pickup crews to reject the bundle.
• Hold the twine and unroll it as you walk around the plant.
• Cinch in the cord as you go.
• Spiral up as you go, pull tighter all the time.
• Tie the top end of the cord to a lower loop when the
bundle seems as tight as you can make it.
• Then cut the stalks at ground
- hand pruners (calls for strong
- loppers (better; you use
upper body strength), or
- a power brush trimmer
(looks like a small buzz-saw
at the end of a rod) or
- a strong electric hedge
trimmer (what Janet's
Cut as close to the ground as possible. If you can't cut close
to begin with, go back over the stubble to shorten it. We know you
see landscape crews and even professional horticulturists cut to
leave foot-high clumps, but that's the result of necessary haste,
misinformation or inexperience. That stubble shades potential new
buds which eventually die, and that accelerates the dead-center
If some year you miss the prime grass-cutting season and the
grass you plan to cut has already sprouted, cut it anyway. Shave
off the new growth with the old. Fresh blades will appear.
Otherwise, resolve to put up with the sight of dead culms sticking
out all over for the year or allow yourself a few hours to sort the
stalks so you can cut the old while leaving the new.
Alternative to dividing a big grass
Don't want to dig up a big grass that needs dividing, but hate
its dead-center doughnut appearance? Here's an option to dividing,
demonstrated on a pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana, zones
8-10) and applicable to maiden grass (Miscanthus), ravenna
grass and others.
• First, cut the grass low.
• Then pull and cut to remove the dead grass from the plant's
center. This is very tough at first but increasingly easy once you
break through to the soil below. In the photo at left, below, we've
cleared the center, which added up to two five-gallon buckets of
• Now dig into the center to loosen the soil there and add new
soil or compost. Add an amount equal to the debris you removed.
• Finally, pry one or several young divisions from the outer
edge of the clump. Choose the liveliest based on root density, such
as the one on the right of the pair Janet's holding (below,
right). Plant those into the renewed center.
Wishing for more power over grasses
For those who seek power options we can offer only the power
post hole digger in place of digging out the old center. Let us
know how it works for you; we didn't think it was enough of a
reduction in work to justify the cost of renting the machine.
Last word: To be fair, it isn't only the
grasses that can be overwhelming when it comes to division. There
was the battle with the sweet flag, an Acorus... you can
What's Coming Up 63 to and check page 9 for more about
beating those big clumps.
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