Ornamental grasses are popular in both home and commercial landscaping, and with good reason. They are an attractive way to add texture, height and contemporary style to any landscape or garden. Many of them are drought resistant, and some are even evergreen. However, one of the most important features of ornamental grasses is their three season interest, and this is where gardeners are making a tragic mistake. So lets explore the question of when to cut back ornamental grasses!



Are You Cutting Back Your Ornamental Grasses Too Soon?

Steve (my husband) has a real problem with this! Many gardeners cut back their grasses at the end of the summer when tidying up the rest of their garden beds for fall and winter. Gardening service professionals seem to be some of the biggest offenders. We’ll be driving along in the fall and he’ll see some grasses that have been cut back or are actively being cut back and he’ll just go off! “You’re missing out on the best part” etc… But Steve’s right! (this time anyway) When you cut back your grasses too soon, you are missing out on one of ornamental grass’s best features. Their fall and winter beauty! Nothing catches the frost of a cold winters day like the bronzed plumes of a Maidengrass or a Red Fountain Grass. Small clumping grasses often stay evergreen for at least part of the winter depending on your climate, offering structure in the garden when most other plants are dormant. Other types of grass turn a gorgeous golden and carry their plumes well through winter weather. Don’t cut your grasses back too early, or you may miss out on enjoying your garden well into winter.


When to Cut Back Ornamental Grasses

Of course, you will have to cut them back eventually. This is healthier for the grasses and generates a fresh look to the plant come spring. But wait until late winter or early spring for most grasses. If you live in a heavy snow area, you may have no choice but to cut taller grasses back earlier to prevent them from being toppled over by the weight of the snow. But for the rest of you, put down the shears! If you employ a landscape maintenance company, be sure to let them know you do not want your grasses cut back in the fall, or they will do it automatically to consolidate their work.


Would you prefer a winter garden that looks like this? Photo from ‘North Coast Gardening‘.


Or like this? Photo from ‘The Gardeners eden‘.


This photo was taken in mid November in Washington state. The fall color of the grasses are amazing. This is what you would be missing out on if you cut back your ornamental grasses too soon!


And during those really wintery days with frost or snow, grasses can look really amazing and beautiful!

ornamental grasses

I think we made our point, right? When cutting back ornamental grasses, wait until late late winter or early spring to get the most out of these beautiful plants! You might want to check out our post Ornamental Grasses – Update Your Curb Appeal.


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  1. Laurie Langman October 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I have butterfly bushes in a container, I want to transplant them in the ground, what is the best time to do this, I live in NE Ohio

    1. Kathy Woodard November 3, 2013 at 11:49 am

      The best time to plant is early fall, but if the ground has already frozen where you live, keep them in a protected area such as a garage or shed, or bury the whole pots in a temporary garden bed to protect the roots then plant in the spring when the ground thaws.

    2. George Michael March 7, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Like Kathy said is correct, good answer Kathy!

      Thank you for having such a plant that provides help to our wonderful & beautiful creatures!

      I am quite sure they certainly appreciate.

      Please keep up your good work in all that you do!

      Thank You & Good Luck with the plants!


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