Stop! Don’t Prune That Grass (How to Prune Ornamental Grasses Right)


Most of us know what to do with our big grasses that go dormant each winter: Grab a bungee cord, tie the grass up, and use an electric hedge trimmer to buzz the column of foliage to the ground. But what about those tricky grasses that are evergreen or ones that have a ground-hugging habit? When and how do you prune those garden staples that don’t fit neatly into the “large and goes dormant” category?

If you are hesitant to treat your sedge the same as your maiden grass, it’s for good reason. Unconventional grassy plants can’t be trimmed using generalized pruning rules. They require special timing and techniques on your part to look their best. Start by figuring out which category your grasses fall under: evergreen or goes dormant, large or small. This allows you to select the best pruning method, even if you are not sure of the exact varieties you have.

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Fall Garden Tasks in the Pacific Northwest

IMG_8003.jpgThis time of year, my landscape maintenance company is busy as anything, pruning and helping all the gardens recover from months of wild blooming abandon. While a lot of what we’re doing right now is pruning to keep things at the right size in relation to their surroundings (we don’t want the plants leaning boorishly on their neighbors all winter long), we’re also starting to cut back a few plants that are finishing their blooms or going into dormancy. While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, here are a few of the most important tasks we’re doing right now:

Planting winter veggies:

Now’s the time to set out starts of broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other winter veggies. If you aren’t sure what grows well for winter, Peaceful Valley has a great online calculator which gives suggestions for planting what when. Their suggestions are based around planting seeds, so if you’re using starts from the nursery you can plant a bit later. winter harvestOr, you can pick up this book, which is a spiral-bound week-by-week guide to what to plant when based on your anticipated frost dates. This was recommended to me recently by a garden magazine editor as one of the best new edible books of the year, and I have to agree – my copy’s already muddy from use (that’s how you know it’s good, right?). Another great book for winter veggie gardening is The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. All the people I know with envy-inducing crops in winter swear by this book.

Planting spring bulbs:

Yep, it’s that time again. Daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and grape hyacinth, Calochortus, Tulips (I’m partial to the lily-flowered ones), and more. Feeling impatient? You can force bulbs, or you can hurry up and plant my very favorite bulb ever, fall crocus. The glowing cornflower-purple ones make me so happy. If you have gophers but want to have bulbs in the ground, you can sink those flexible Smart Pots into the ground. While it’s possible the gophers will be smart enough to climb out of the ground and over the top of them to eat your delicious bulbs, the company has never heard of a gopher chewing through the pot, since it’s made of a synthetic polymer material that isn’t fun to eat. If the rain always knocks your tulips over, try planting them under eaves so they’ll have a chance to shine for you.

Planting shrubs, trees, and hardy perennials:

IMG_8673Yep, the nurseries are clearing out old stock and giving some great prices, just as the best time of the year to plant arrives. Fall planting is the best, even in gardens that use drip irrigation, because the dampness of the winter allows the plants to grow strong roots before trying to grow lots of foliage or bloom for you. And while drip irrigation is great for keeping plants alive, the fact that the tubing usually only soaks a small area around the plant means that it’s better for keeping established plants happy than for getting new plants going. The rain gets good coverage every time (well, except under the eaves). Here are some great things to plant this time of year: Golden conifers Winter interest ornamental grasses Unusual rhododendron varieties Heathers Winter annuals Perennials for winter

Aaaaaand… pruning. Lots and lots of fall pruning:

This is what most of our time is taken up by. Deadheading, shaping, small-ifying and making presentable all those sprawling beauties that have so lavishly decorated our summer gardens.
Hydrangealookforswollenbudsatleafbase_thumb Hydrangeafinishedcutabovebuds_thumb
  Here are tutorials, some with video, on what to prune now: Heaths and heathers How to deadhead Hydrangeas Alstroemeria Hardy cranesbills/ geraniums Mexican bush sage/ Salvia leucantha Summer-pruning exuberant Miscanthus Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ Cane berries and raspberries Astilbe And, here’s a list of frost-tender beauties that I take care NOT to prune right now! Phew! Well, I’m tuckered just thinking about all of that. In between all of that good gardening activity, be sure to take the time to enjoy the bounty of peaches, and kick back with a drink in the last days of summer. And in case you’re looking to cut a few corners in your garden maintenance, here is some food for thought on which fall garden tasks you might safely skip. What are you guys tackling now that fall is near? Let me know in the comments below.

Lawn Hacks for Organic Gardening Geeks

The-standard-American-lawn.jpgLawn care, at first glance, seems pretty straightforward. Mow, water, apply various bagged items, and take the time to frolic playfully on your fancypants expanse of greenery. But after owning a lawn for any period of time, most of us start to ponder the deeper questions surrounding lawn. Questions like, “dang, why does my water bill double every summer?” and “why does the pull-cord on my mower have to be such a pain?” and, “geez, where are all the birds and bugs around this joint?”. Issues like these are enough to harsh anyone’s lawn mellow. [Read more...]

Prune Your Hellebores: A Public Service Announcement

how-to-deadhead-hellebore.jpgLenten roses, Helleborus orientalis, are gorgeous in winter. They’re gorgeous in spring, too. But if you don’t deadhead them once they’re done blooming, they stop being gorgeous and start looking ratty. Then, they turn into spawning hellcats, dropping masses of seeds that sprout into masses of tiny, slow-growing, hard-to-remove seedlings that, yes, could theoretically turn into fresh new hellebores if you wait ten years, transplant them into better locations, and coddle them, but practically speaking, will look like weeds and use up the water and nutrients meant for your parent plant without giving anything substantial in return. Deadhead them. It’s simple: if a stalk has a bloom on it, cut the whole stalk down to the ground. You’ll be left with a lovely mass of foliage. Then, in winter, when the blooms come up, you do the opposite: cut out any stalks that are obviously last year’s leaves (there may be a few brand-new leaves coming from the base, but those are easy to spot and leave be). Your Hellebore will then look like this: helleborus orientalis pruned Easy, right? If you’re a Humboldt County local and you need help getting to all of this, give me a call. My pruning and fine perennial maintenance crew is happy to take care of all of these things at the right times of the year, so that all you have to do is relax and enjoy your space. More about Hellebores here.

The Evolution of a Gardener: Finding the Middle Ground Between Neat and Natural

Frog.jpgDebbie’s post over at Garden of Possibilities was a catalyst for me to really think over an issue I’ve been having a lot lately – the Neat VS Natural debate. It’s not a debate I’ve been having with anyone else, it’s more been an internal struggle. You see, the more I learn about gardening, the more I want to garden in a way that’s a little more natural, a little more wildlife-oriented. The problem I encounter is that so much of what I’ve been learning to do for wildlife just looks messy to me. I’m sorry, but it does. Fallen leaves piling up, masses of brown flowerheads and dead foliage scattered about… You don’t spend nearly 15 years running a landscape maintenance company without developing a bit of a neatness fetish in the garden. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate a bit of intentional leaving it be – the artfully-left seedpods, the carefully-chosen flowerheads that stand brown and proud, and the fallen leaves that are still a lovely array of colors. But when it starts to veer from artfully-placed into the realm of out-of-control, I kind of lose my appreciation for it. But I haven’t lost my appreciation for native bugs, for the songbirds they feed, the butterflies they become, or the happy thrum of native bees in the summer garden. [Read more...]

Low-Maintenance Landscaping: How to Tim Ferriss Your Garden Routine

TimFerriss.jpgDo you have more garden than time? Even people who love, LOVE to garden sometimes find their landscape a source of guilt rather than joy. So many times when I’m visiting a garden, I’m making enthusiastic exclamations over the abundance and beauty of it all, the owner of the garden is saying things like, “well, don’t look over there”, and “this area’s just a mess”, and “I haven’t gotten around to weeding lately”. Even if the overall effect is lovely, when it’s our garden, we can get hung up on our to-do list instead of just appreciating how far we’ve come. If that’s you, there are a ton of things you can do to reduce the amount of work required of you, so that you’re able to focus on doing the things that bring you joy in the garden. Four-Hour-Work-Week If you’ve heard of Tim Ferriss, he’s the author of The Four-Hour Workweek, and he recommends automating, outsourcing and just plain stopping doing work that doesn’t thrill you. The title of his book is misleading, because I think he works longer hours than most people, but he spends his time doing what he loves, not on the repetitive, grindingly boring tasks that make up so many people’s days. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your garden be filled with just the tasks you love? To get to choose how much time to spend and what tasks to spend it on rather than being chained to a maintenance routine you find a chore? To that end, I’ve adapted Ferriss’s advice for business success to the garden. [Read more...]

Fall Leaves: Leave ‘Em and Weep

To read about why fall leaves are so beneficial to wildlife, and how to leave them in your garden without adverse effect, check out this article: Fall Leaf Raking: Finding the Middle Ground. Once upon a time some newbie garden writer thought it’d be a great idea to encourage people to leave their fall leaves on the ground. Hey, it’s got all the qualities of a great article for the masses; it tells folks what they want to hear (stay in your jammies on Saturday and don’t bother with all that raking!), and it sounds vaguely earth-friendly, which generally goes over well.

The problem with this well-intended advice? [Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Intro

Roses can be tough to grow organically, because they’ve been so over-bred for their honking big flowers that often, breeders paid little attention to disease-resistance. So you end up with these great frankenflowers that look fantastic – until midsummer when the black spot, caterpillars, and aphids move in. But – I admit it – I love roses too! There’s nothing like a deep red rose (grown from home, so it’s fragrant!) to mark a romantic occasion, or a spray of cheery pink roses tucked in a bouquet. So what’s a good organic gardener to do? No worries, dude. While growing roses can be a pain because so many varieties do get insects and diseases, there are a number of very effective things you can do to prevent rose pests and treat them organically if they do arrive. These treatments work for other flowers that get diseases, too. Click the links below to find out how to: Prevent rose pests such as aphids and powdery mildew by using good preventive gardening practices. Kill pests and eliminate diseases naturally using organic and biological (beast-eat-beast) controls. Read about some sturdy, disease-resistant roses that will bloom well for you in the damp Pacific Northwest Learn practical tips on how to love your garden as it is – bugs and all.

Organic Gardening 101: How to Begin Gardening Naturally and Have Happier Plants

I’ve been asked a lot lately about organics in the garden. “How do I kill snails around my vegetable starts?” is a common question. “Does anything organic really work on roses?” I even spoke with one gardener who felt chained to her Miracle-Gro routine – having to laboriously water it in every two weeks. It was heartbreaking to me that Miracle-Gro had done such a marketing number on this sweet person that she was going far out of her way to use something that I consider actively bad for her plants and soil! [Read more...]

How to Weed Without Strain: Effortless Gardening with Feldenkrais Practitioner Cathy Butler (Video)

I don’t know about you, but when I garden for hours at a time (which for me is every day), even though I enjoy myself, I do feel sore and tired. Even a gentle and soothing task like weeding often leaves me stooped and tuckered at the end of the day. [Read more...]