February is the time to cut back monkey grass

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There are numerous landscape jobs that should be done in February. One is cutting back liriope.

Vigorous pruning of pampas grass in the winter months will allow it to grow better in the spring.   SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Vigorous pruning of pampas grass in the winter months will allow it to grow better in the spring.

Liriope, often referred to as monkey grass or border grass, is one of the most useful and versatile ground cover and border plants that can be grown in the Augusta area. One of the outstanding characteristics of liriope is that it can survive a range of environmental conditions. It can tolerate hot, dry locations better than most shrubbery. It can also tolerate moist locations better than many ornamentals. And it is a great substitute for grass in an area where there is not enough sunlight to support any kind of grass.

Most people use liriope as a border beside walkways, to border foundation plantings and to separate flower and shrubbery borders from the lawn. I like to use liriope as individual plants in a bed. Different varieties provide different colors in the landscape. There are the variegated types of two-tone green foliage and the solid-green leaf types. All liriope produce lavender flower spikes in mid to late summer that are quite attractive.

I would say that by far, the majority of homeowners have liriope in their yards. If you do, it’s time to do a little work on it.

Winter weather causes liriope to become quite unsightly. The tips of the foliage burns, turns brown, has a limp look to it and appears to be injured.

Additionally, a scale insect can infest the plant, causing small, light-colored discolorations on the leaf surface. Generally though, the plant is not damaged to any extent other than it just looks bad.

So, do you leave the foliage on the plant year after year? Of course not. But I am amazed by the number of people who don’t know that it should be cut back every year.

The normal time for doing this is during February. The goal is to remove the foliage just before new growth begins to develop or show.

This can be determined by looking down into the clump for signs of new bright green shoots.

One of the best ways to trim away the unsightly foliage is to cut it with a lawn mower. If no new shoots have come out, you can cut the liriope fairly close to the ground. But if new growth has begun, raise the mowing height so it will cut above the new growth.

A weed eater is another good way to cut back monkey grass. Hedge shears or hand grass clippers work well for individual plant specimens or in those hard to reach places.

Clean up and discard trimmings for a neater appearance and to remove insect-infested leaves.

I mentioned earlier that liriope is a tough, drought-tolerant plant, but if you fertilize and water it, you will have a more attractive planting. Fertilize in early spring and mid-summer with a general-purpose lawn or garden fertilizer. Rinse away any fertilizer that might fall on the foliage or in the center of the clumps. Water weekly or as needed in dry weather with a thorough application of water for a faster and more attractive growth.

With proper care and maintenance, liriope can be one of your most effective and satisfying plantings.

WINTER MAINTENANCE FOR ORNAMENTAL GRASS: February is a good time to groom perennial grasses. Just before spring growth begins is the best time to cut back clumps of pampas, zebra, fountain and other grasses used in perennial borders and informal landscape beds. By far the most common of these grasses in our landscapes is pampas grass. I had the pleasure of cutting mine back last weekend.

The tools that make the job easier include a small chain saw, brush blades, string trimmers, hedge shears and sharp lopping shears. A word of caution: be especially careful when cutting pampas grass because its serrated leaf blades can inflict pain. This characteristic gives pampas its second common name – sword grass, so be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves.

I started out using hedge shears to get the individual blades down to the main, thick trunk. As I got down close to the trunk where I could no longer use the hedge shears, I used a chain saw to cut it down further. When I finished, mine was 12 to 16 inches tall.

This drastic pruning improves the vigor of spring growth and also helps to identify dead areas that invariably develop in mature clumps.

When the top growth of the grass has been removed, the remaining crown of the plant may indicate the division of mature or overgrown clumps is in order. Use a sharp shovel and bush axe to reduce the size of the mature clump. Divisions can be planted in new beds or shared with neighbors and friends. You can also apply a light application of fertilizer to the grass in early spring when new growth begins.


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