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Should Ornamental Grasses be Cut Back for the Winter?

Ornamental grasses are more popular than ever, and for good reason.  They can add texture to the landscape, and they are tough plants that are easy to grow in a variety of conditions.  Ornamental Grasses in WinterOrnamental grasses can also add beauty to the winter landscape.

But should ornamental grasses be cut back to the ground in winter?

Most ornamental grasses develop tall seed heads late in the summer that naturally persist through the winter.  When temperatures start to drop the plant will die back, leaving the dried foliage, stalks, and seed heads.  The general rule that you should cut back the grasses before the next growing season, so that the new year’s growth will be more vigorous and healthy.

I have found a couple of exceptions to this here in the Denver area, particularly with Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima), which did not regenerate as well or look as good the year after I cut it back.  I have since started leaving it uncut, which results is the new growth coming up right through the beautiful finely textured golden old growth.  But with most varieties, they should be cut back before new growth starts in the spring.

So the question, then, is whether you should cut them back in the fall, or wait until the spring.  Many people enjoy the colors and movement that these elements provide in winter.  Others prefer a more “neat” or formal look.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the advantages each approach:

ornamental grasses winter interest

Advantages of leaving the grasses for the winter and waiting until the spring to cut them back

  • When shrubs lose their leaves, and perennials wither to the ground, grasses can provide form in the landscape
  • Texture:  Interesting textures can stand out, collecting frost or snow, and reflecting sunlight
  • Movement:  Winter winds and soft breezes can move and sway the stems and seed heads of ornamental grasses
  • The grasses can add color to the drab winter landscape, including shades of reds, yellows, browns, and blues
  • Upright grasses can be used to help screen views when deciduous plants have lost their leaves
  • The grasses can provide habitat and shelter for birds and other small animals

ornamental grasses cut back in winter
Advantages of cutting back ornamental grasses right away in the fall or early winter

  • This can be interesting and different look, I have seen some nice formal plantings that looked stunning with the grasses cut back
  • Some grasses hold their form better than others, while some varieties may flop over under heavy snow
  • Cutting them back may give the impression (rightly or wrongly) that a commercial landscape is being better maintained
  • In some cases the grasses may block sight lines, such as to important signage in a shopping center
  • In high foot traffic areas, it may be beneficial to cut back ornamental grasses to avoid them being trampled

So what do you think, is one method better than the other?  My personal taste is to leave the grasses up all winter, but there are situations where you may want to cut them back.  And you can always decide to cut them back later, if you feel the need to tidy them up.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects. For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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What Not to Do – Planting a Large Tree Directly Under Power Lines

No, this is not a new species of tree selected for it’s graceful “V” shape.

When large trees are planted directly under power lines the utility companies will hack them back with no regard for for aesthetics.  In general, it is always best to avoid placing trees too close to any utilities or permanent structures.

Tree Under Power Lines

Here are a few guidelines and things to remember:

1) In addition to being aware of overhead wires, always call for underground utility locates (dial 811 in Colorado) prior to doing any digging or planting any trees.  These fine folks will come to your property and locate with markings all of the underground utilities.


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The Top 10 Benefits of Making Landscaping More Water Efficient

Converting an outdated landscape into landscaping that uses less water is not as hard as you might think.  And there are many benefits!

One of the best ways to do this is to convert your high water-use landscaping into a Xeriscape (pronounced “zeer-escape”).  This can be done anywhere-  from a small home landscape, to a large commercial property.

Many people have an image of Xeriscape as a “sea of rocks, with a few cactus plants”.  But Xeriscape can also be a lush, green and colorful landscape that is interwoven with flowering plants, textures, and beauty throughout each season.  In my opinion it is much more beautiful and interesting than “traditional” landscaping.

The Top 10 Benefits Are:

10.  Less Maintenance
9.  Use Less Water & Better for the Environment
8.  Prevent Water Damage
7.  More Beautiful, Colorful & Unique
6.  Better Wildlife Habitat
5.  Less Fertilizers & Pesticides Needed
4.  Better Suited to Your Site’s Unique Conditions
3.  More Winter Beauty
2.  Better Prepared for Drought
1.  Saves You Money

Now I will discuss each benefit in greater detail and explain what each one can mean for you:

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How to Winterize an Irrigation System

As the cold temperatures arrive across much of the country, irrigation systems should be winterized to avoid damage.

Whether you are a commercial property owner/manager that is overseeing maintenance, or a do-it-yourself homeowner, you should know the basics of the winterization process.  Here is a link to a good article from John Deere Landscapes that summarizes the winterization process nicely.  The author is from Michigan, but the process is the pretty much the same for any place that has freezing temperatures.

Is it necessary to winterize?  Some people choose to simply turn off the water and take their chances- I have talked to many people who have done just that without incurring any damage to their systems.  Here in Colorado, we often have sunny warm days throughout the winter.  However, we usually have at least a few days of zero-to-negative degree temperatures- and freezing temperatures can damage an irrigation system that has not been properly winterized.  Bottom line:  If you have invested a lot of care and money into your own irrigation system (or, you are providing maintenance for someone else’s) then it is well worth the small expense and effort to properly winterize.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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