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How To Cut Back & Divide Ornamental Grasses In Early Spring – Create New Plants For Free!

It is hard to find a more cost effective way to add low-maintenance beauty to your landscape than by cutting back and dividing your existing ornamental grasses to create new plants. And early spring just happens to be the perfect time to do it!

Ornamental grasses grow in all sizes, shapes and colors. From shades of green, red, and purple, to a whole slew of variegated styles in between, you can find a match for any landscaping need.

Even better, ornamental grasses are incredibly low maintenance. They can handle drought and heat with ease, and require no additional water other than an occasional rain.

ornamental grasses in flowerbeds
Ornamental grasses make the perfect planting partner to perennials and annuals. They can help fill big spaces in flowerbeds, creating less need for weeding and mulch.

In addition to their drought resistance, ornamental grasses are also rarely bothered by pests. That includes deer and rabbits, which happen to be two of the toughest culprits when it comes to damaging home landscape plantings. And even better, grasses also happen to be highly disease resistant too.

But perhaps best of all, ornamental grasses are easy to propagate from existing plants. And that means you can easily create tons of new plants to help fill your beds and landscape with interest – and all for free!

When To Cut Back & Divide Ornamental Grasses

Late winter to early spring is the best time for ornamental grass care and maintenance. At this point, the grasses are still dormant. Because of that, it is not only safe to cut them back, but to also divide and transplant them as well.

Beyond creating new plants, dividing grasses every four to five years also helps them to maintain their size as well as their health and vigor.

Ornamental grasses have a unique growing style all to themselves. As plants mature, new growth occurs only at the outer edges of the plant, and not from the original center. As ornamental grasses age, the original growing area begin to die from the center outward.

Dividing your grasses on a regular basis is one of the best ways to keep them healthy and strong. Younger ornamental grass plants tend to grow their foliage more upright, with less chance of it drooping over. They also plume much more vigorously as well.

Grasses left to grow uninterrupted in the same space for too many years can begin to struggle. Not only will they become weak and flimsy, they can also have extremely spotty growth.

Luckily, digging them up and dividing them every so often will fix this issue. But even better, it can give you tons of new (and free!) plants to fill your beds with beauty.

The process itself couldn’t be more simple. All it really takes is a little knowledge of the grasses’ growing cycle, and picking the right time to dig, divide, and replant!

How To Divide & Transplant Ornamental Grasses

Cutting Back

If you did not cut your grasses back in the fall, you will need to do this before you can divide and transplant. Cut back the entire clump so that only 2 to 3 inches of the grass stems remain above the soil line.

If the grasses are larger and older clumps, this can actually be a tough task. Although a good pair of ratcheting hedge shears will work, a powered set of hedge shears or even a chainsaw may work best for really large clumps.

cutting back ornamental grasses
Garden pruners will work for cutting back, but they can take forever! Instead, use hedge trimmers or even a chainsaw for large clumps.

Always wear gloves, protective glasses, a long sleeve shirt and pants when cutting ornamental grasses back. The individual blades can be very sharp. Not only can they cut exposed skin, they can leave welts and rashes wherever they come in contact with your skin.

Digging Out The Root Ball – How To Divide Ornamental Grasses

To dig out the clump of ornamental grass roots, you will need a strong, sturdy shovel with a sharp cutting edge. You also might want to have a pick (mattock) or an axe on hand as well, as they can make dividing and lifting out extremely large root balls a bit easier.

Start by placing the blade of your shovel about an inch behind the outer edge of the clump. Cut down as far as the shovel will dig, making sure to go at least 6 to 8 inches into the ground.

Work your way all around the circumference of the plant, continuing to cut down 6 to 8 inches as you go. Once you have cut all the way around, use your shovel to dig down under the plant, and try to pop it out of it’s planting space.

Most ornamental grass roots will be near the top four to five inches of the soil line. Occasionally, they will have a bigger center root that can be difficult to sometime pop out.

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This is where the pick/mattock tool can come in handy to help pry the grass clump from the ground. For older and larger plants, you may need to dig out the root ball in sections. Simply slice out a section as you would a piece of pie. Each individual piece you pop out can then become a new plant.

Dividing The Grass Clumps – How To Divide & Transplant Ornamental Grasses

Once you have the clump and roots out of the ground, it’s time to divide them into new plants. With transplants, the smaller you cut the transplant section, the smaller your grass will be the first year of growth.

How small or large you cut really depends on your needs. If you want more mature plants during the first year of growth, leave the sections large. Remember the larger the transplant is, the more often you will have to divide it to keep it under control.

dividing ornamental grasses
Divide your ornamental grasses into sections and then replant to form new plants. If you want more mature plants during the first year of growth, leave the sections large.

The easiest way to divide a large grass clump is to turn it over so that the bottom of the roots are facing up. It is much easier to slice through with your shovel from this side as there are no hard grass edges to cut through first.

If the grasses are extremely large and tough, you can use the sharp end of an ax to cut them more easily. Usually one hard chop will separate sections quite easily. Do not worry about harming the plant. Ornamental grass roots are extremely durable and will recover in short fashion.

Finally, be sure to only select the outer edge areas of the original root ball for new transplants. Avoid the center area of the original clump as this is where the plant would have died out as it aged. Planting it as a new transplant will likely result in a plant that never sprouts.

Transplanting

One of the easiest parts of dividing and creating new starts of ornamental grass is the planting process. Ornamental grasses are extremely hardy and require very little to sprout and grow again.

To replant, simply dig a hole twice the size of the circumference and just below the depth of the transplant. Mix in a bit of compost to the planting hole, water, and cover so that the plant’s crown is slightly below the soil line.

As soon as the temperatures begin to warm in late spring, new growth will begin to grow from the crown. Before you know it, you will have a landscape full of free plants! They are extremely hardy plants. Because of this, they can handle a frost or hard freeze as long as they are in the ground.

For more on ornamental grass varieties to plant, check out our Ornamental Grass Category Page on the website.

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