|Those lovely plumes that grace the fountain grass, muhly grass, pampas grass, and all their relatives really reach their peak for me after frost has browned their foliage. For a few precious weeks their glory dominates the scene outside my window and I decide once again that they are worth the space and effort. By the end of January, I’ll cut them down and remove most of the grass to reshape it into a mushroom ready to grow again. It’s a big job, but like most pruning jobs, I enjoy it immensely. It’s a chance to use one of my favorite tools, the hedge clippers. Yes, you can do it with a chain saw and I have, or take an electric trimmer to the clump and have at it. Your pick! I like the manual hedgers with long, cross cut blades. Their handles slope upward, perfect for snipping off the plumes and long grass blades. Then I turn it over to do the shaping because the cut is neater in forming the downward slope. It’s also handy for chopping the blades into short pieces that will rot faster in the compost or brush pile. I prefer the blender method: don those safety glasses and dump the grass into a plastic trash can. Use a string trimmer very carefully to grind up the grass in the can. If you have a lot to chop, and can stand the noise, try it.
Clumping groundcovers like monkey grass and liriope can look ragged after a year or two of neglect, but winter pruning can fix it. The strategy here is to clip them before new growth starts and that is sooner than you might think. Part the clump as if your hand was a comb and look in deep to see the growing point. Do not cut into that heart! You can take off raggedy leaves completely, but trim the rest pretty well, too. Work some organic fertilizer like Mighty Grow into the soil around each plant and lay down a new blanket of ground bark mulch. Fertilize again with a slow release formula when new growth starts. You know my mantra: feed the soil and then feed the plants.
My lousy lantana has finally browned out from the cold weather and I am happy to cut it back as it has been the bane of my existence for two years. It has not gotten over a battle with spider mites and I fear may never get right again. It happens and I should just go ahead and yank it out of the ground. But it was here when I arrived 20 years ago – another reason to give it up – and I don’t know where to get another Butter and Eggs. It’s time to cut back all the browned perennials and this year it may be more important than ever. We seem to be in a weather pattern that is very cold but briefly then warms up for as long as a week. Those conditions favor fungus over steady growth or dormancy, and browned perennial stems and flowers can turn gray with disease overnight. You don’t need all those spores, so cut back the perennials now.
A new feature of Ya Mama’s Blog is the Vegetable Report, where I will keep you informed weekly about what I’m planting and picking. This week, because it was going to be cold, the harvest included a bounty of the herbs I use everyday. I snipped 30 green onion tops, a big bunch of parsley, and enough thyme to cook a pot roast. My next task is to start more lettuce seeds as the bed is getting bare and to repair its plastic hoop. It seems the neighbor cats tried to get under it on a cold night and the plastic is askew.