Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spring Cuttings

Anyone living in or near the MidWest knows that we had a miraculous warm spell last weekend, and I know that some might be asking "What did ProfessorRoush do on his glorious weekend?"   Or, more likely, probably not, since most of you were too excited to be out in your own gardens to think about your blogging companions.

In the last "warm" spell of a couple weeks back, I took advantage of a 55ºF day to finally get the fruit trees trimmed and the dormant spray applied.  So the next thing on my yearly list, other than waiting for whatever little floral creature decides to be the first to bloom and brighten my Spring, was to tackle trimming the grape vines into shape before their sap flow starts.  I had intended to do them along with the fruit tree pruning, but realized on that particular weekend that I would have to stand knee deep in the remnants of a snow drift to prune them, and that action seemed a little too extreme.  But this past weekend, the temperatures hit 68ºF and out came the pruners and "Voila!", the grapes were ready for spring.  From there, I went to trimming back all the ornamental grasses, since I had noticed that the KSU garden had done their grass haircuts already. I went on to start cleaning off the front landscaping beds but finally the brisk Flint Hills winds drove me indoors.  It was either that or have chapped hands and an earache to start out Spring.

I don't know how everyone else cuts back their grasses, but I had the fortune of purchasing, a few years back, a Black & Decker battery-operated set of tools containing a sander, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and drill.  The reciprocating saw, with a 4 inch blade, is what I use for trimming back fruit and landscape trees and it makes quick work of my spring trimming chores. But even better than that, I separately purchased the long-handled hedge trimmer (pictured below) that was compatible with the set and I've found it a snap for some grasses, allowing me to stand upright and shear them off with the greatest of ease. The portable trimmer makes quick work of the small-stemmed Panicum sp, and Calamagrostis sp, and the Pennisetum's, or the Schizachyrium cultivars.  Seeing the grasses cut back and the garden lines so much cleaner is one of  my favorite feelings of springtime, sort of on a par with the satisfaction of washing my Jeep after running it down a muddy country road.  Old men and their power toys are a match made in gardening heaven.

Unfortunately, like everything else, my portable trimmer fails me during assaults against the majority of the Miscanthus cultivars.  Some cultivars, like 'Morning Light' or 'Gracillimus' are moderately susceptible to the wiles of the trimmer.  On many of those monsters, however, like the mighty striped Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus', I grumble and cry and finally get down on my knees at the base of the grass clump to pray to the Prairie Gods that I'm still young and fit enough to chop through a large clump with manual hedge trimmers.  If you haven't grown Miscanthus, you might not know about this, but these beasts of the grass family cannot be hacked with machete nor trimmed with power equipment.  It takes a pair of good strong arms and a stiff set of shears to bring them down each Spring.  Even worse than cutting them back is any attempt to move them, as their root masses form solid clumps of wood deep in the ground that I have found impossible to lift or divide without the aid of a bulldozer.  I'm currently planning the division and move for several of my taller misplaced Miscanthus this Spring, and I'm vacillating between using dynamite or hiring several unsuspecting teenagers for the task.  It's a tough choice, but I'll likely gravitate in the end towards the explosives since they'll be quieter and less destructive to the surrounding plants than the teenagers. 


  1. Professor, I heard you grumbling and crying. Sounded very much like me when I moved a Pampas Grass plant (a big one) to make room for Climbing Maman Cochet. So now you know what a rose maniac I was at the beginning of this ride.

  2. A sharp bread knife is THE BEST thing to use on the dry stalks of the more monstrous grasses.


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