Anne KingHow to maintain ornamental grasses

It’s July in our garden in Scotsburn, near Ballarat in Victoria and it’s time to attack and cut down all the decorative grasses, including lots of Miscanthus and a big swathe of Pennisetum around the front on the embankment. Over the years we worked out the fastest and easiest way to cut them back.

Ornamental grasses in late autumn/fall

Ornamental Miscanthus grasses in late autumn/fall

We have developed some special tools and techniques that make this job much easier, as you can see in this video of the ‘Grasses Chainsaw Massacre’ of the Pennisetum, shot on a very windy day!

Miscanthus grasses after their 'Chainsaw Massacre'! They will green up quickly in spring.

Miscanthus grasses after their ‘Chainsaw Massacre’! They will green up quickly in spring.

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Anne King

About Anne King

An avid garden visitor, Anne is passionate about new gardens being appropriate to their time and place. Her interest in design stems from her training as an architect and is coupled with a hands-on practical approach honed while managing the family farm in South Gippsland for many years. Now retired and living near Ballarat with husband Berry, they both enjoy travelling and thinking up new creative projects in sculpture and silver jewellery making.

14 thoughts on “How to maintain ornamental grasses

  1. Great tip Anne. (Got to love willing husbands with a chainsaw!!)

    • Anne king on said:

      I’ve done it myself up until now , but very happy to hand this job over to someone else. Especially with several hundred plants involved. Great job for anyone who loves to get stuck into cutting things back, and no chance of being accused of cutting off the wrong bit!

  2. Lois Davey on said:

    What a good idea, what do you do with all the grass,mulch or compost?

    • Anne King on said:

      Feeling somewhat guilty to admit that most goes on the fire pile. Have spread some as mulch when plants were younger, and more bare ground between, BUT very slow to rot down and can create a thatch effect which stops rain penetrating so use sparingly. I’ve not tried feeding any through the mulching machine , because I think it might clog up , but if finely shredded would probably compost , or be useful as a mulch.

  3. Jeff howes on said:

    Vast expanses of ornamental grasses are unsuited to large areas as they need to be cut back or even set fire to (an exciting exercise). They are out of place in small areas as they leave areas of nothing until they grow back and look great again. Great pruning idea.

    • I think that’s a warm-climate sensibility showing through there Jeff. The concept of ‘putting the garden to bed’ and having that down time doesn’t really exist in warmer climates but in the colder areas of southern Australia, it’s exactly what works best.

  4. steven on said:

    Thanks Anne. That is brilliant. Its a very practical idea to tie it up and a very effective way of chainsaw pruning. I knew there was a valid reason why I need to buy a chainsaw despite my smallish backyard!!! It is the perfect tool for my ornamental grasses 🙂

  5. Do you need to cut back ornamental grasses in Sydney? P

    • Yes, ornamental grasses grown in Sydney will benefit from being cut down hard in late winter, including Pennisetum and Miscanthus. Although many of these grasses are still growing and even flowering in Sydney right now, if you cut the clump right down, it gets rid of all that dead material and makes it look much better during the following season.

  6. Dianne on said:

    excellent, what an effecient way to manage them, thanks for sharing.

  7. Great tips, Anne. Cutting back our grasses is on the job list for when the snow stops.
    Liz Chappell

  8. Michelle on said:

    Hi Anne, I cut my purple foxtail (pennisetum) to ground level a couple of years ago, and it has never grown back! I have two others in my garden, which have died down, but I’m too scared to cut it down in case the same thing happens.

    • Anne King on said:

      Hi Michelle
      The Pennesetum which we grow in big swathes is P. alopecuroides, which was originally supplied and planted as tiny tubetock. This variety is also known as Chinese Fountain Grass or Swamp Foxtail and is native to Australia and parts of Asia. It does not seed readily so is non-invasive. Unlike P. setaceum, African Fountain grass, which should be avoided.
      Some purple foxtails used to be sold as P. setaceum ‘Rubrum’, but I understand are now sold as Pennesetum advena ‘Rubrum’, and are not considered invasive.
      Online advice is that these should be pruned back annually by early spring to 200 to 400mm high.
      However the only one I have ever grown was bought last March, in a pot, and after being potted up and trimmed back in early spring shows no sign of life. I may have let it dry out too much. Anyway I fear it has joined yours in plant heaven! A pity, as they are so beautiful.

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