IT’S TIME TO CUT BACK

My cutting back period is typically Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day and this week I chose to cut back lavender, my bird topiary, and a bunch of grasses, so I can prepare for planting.

Before lavender is cut back

Lavender is one of those evergreen woody ‘perennials’ that needs to be cut back hard every year to regenerate the plant-right down to new growth closest to the center of the plant. Otherwise lavender turns into a twisted mess of wood in about 5 years and you have to replace it.

After being cut back-and even then maybe it could be cut back more sharply.

I trimmed the bird topiary lightly and then took a photo to study its shape. Note my red lines which are the guide for its final trim.

Red lines help guide how I’d like to improve its shape.

Even dried grasses have a wintry presence. Wait until late winter to cut back.

Big, bold grasses add structure even during the winter.
Smaller grasses add texture and increase the definition of evergreen shrubs.

When I trim grasses, I do so knowing the trimmings will be chopped and used as mulch, not taken away to become compost elsewhere.

Plenty of grasses mean plenty of mulch for plants that need protection from evaporation during hotter days.
One last thing to remember, there’s a different technique for cutting back herbaceous grasses from evergreen grasses. On the left is Japanese Blood Grass (and prefers moist soil). It turns brown in winter. Cut it back to about 3″. On the right is Sesleria autumnalis (which tolerates drier soil). It is evergreen but has some die-back which makes it unattractive. Cut it back to 6″. Don’t cut it too short or it can die from crown rot.
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Sharpen the Pruning Shears; I’m Ready for Spring.

It’s late January in case you hadn’t noticed. The days are getting a little longer and there’s a wee bit more sun. Time to prune!

It's no mystery why grasses need to be cut back this time of year. They've been hammered by wind, rain, a little snow and ice.
It’s no mystery why grasses need to be cut back this time of year. They’ve been hammered by wind, rain, a little snow and ice.

I’ve already begun with hellebores, which if I don’t clip off the old leaves, the new flowers will have a rather dismal looking skirt. Once I’ve finished with the hellebores (they are in multiple locations in my garden and I probably have at least 40 of them), I’ll begin to cut back the grasses. There are many of those, too. I’ll probably cut back the evergreen ferns…especially the sword ferns…as I cut back the grasses. Then there is always the issue of clearing all of the piles of clippings during the process. Clean up as you go if you can.

Worn leaves on hellebores detract from their flowers. So cut them off now. You'll be rewarded with a fresh flush of new growth after flowering.
Worn leaves on hellebores detract from their flowers. So cut them off now. You’ll be rewarded with a fresh flush of new growth after flowering.

I will also prune or even remove the Betula youngii that I’ve had in place for so many years. When I planted it I didn’t look up how big it would get. That would be de rigueur for me today. I recall seeing a mature specimen at the Blodel Reserve, further north in WA State. It was quite large. This is when I knew that eventually I’d be in trouble. So several years ago I planted a Viburnum which will get to around 8′ tall and have been allowing it to get larger every year at the edge and a little beneath the tree. Now it’s large enough that if I remove the tree, the Viburnum will shade the plants that the tree has shaded. It will also not shade the Puritan rose a little farther away which means it will perform better, too.

Yes, it’s mid-winter and the livin’ ain’t easy. But summer will come and there will be those magical days that I so enjoy outdoors. And maybe I’ll have a little more time to sit in the garden and enjoy it.

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