Saturday, August 16, 2014

Foliage Follow-up - The Importance of Good Grooming

"The Importance of Good Grooming" sounds like an article for girls in some kind of high-handed teen publication dating back to the 1930s, doesn't it?  However, the phrase came to mind this week as I was staring at my rather sloppy looking Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima).

Three of my "ungroomed" grasses - some are much worse than these but I don't have photos on hand



I have a LOT of Mexican feather grass in my garden - 34 plants by an off the top of my head count.  I'm sorry that I learned only belatedly that it can be invasive in my climate.  It's a very drought tolerant and spreads easily even in unirrigated areas.  Tufts of grass seedlings have popped up in my garden beds, as well as odder places, like between driveway paving stones.  Keeping in under control requires timely removal of the zillions of seeds the plants produce.  Cutting the grass back eliminates the seedheads but, in my opinion, negatively impacts the graceful appearance of the plant.  Combing the grass by running one's fingers through its strands is one recommended method to clean out the seeds and dead material but I found that this is also hard on my hands, even when I have the foresight to put on gloves before I get started.

So I tried tools originally purchased to groom my cats.  Of these, the flea comb worked best but I think it was rough on the grass.  In the end, I found that a wide-toothed hair comb works well to remove seeds without having them attach themselves to gloves and clothes.




Hands still work best for pulling out dead material from the middle of the plants but tugging the dead blades from the base in small segments was more efficient than simply running fingers through the plant material - and less hard on my hands.




The freshly groomed plants look a lot better.  I'm so pleased with them I thought I'd make them this month's focus for the foliage follow-up post sponsored by Pam at Digging.

Freshly groomed Stipa tenuissima



Only 31 more plants to go.




Why, of why, didn't I plant more Lomandra 'Breeze' instead of all that Mexican feather grass?  No grooming needed there.

Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze'



Please visit Pam at Digging to see her foliage follow-up and to find links to other foliage highlights.


All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

35 comments:

  1. That feather grass really is beautiful and especially nice when groomed. I don't envy you that garden chore. Clever to use a comb to clean it out. the Lomandra is very beautiful also but I think the feather grass is prettier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the gold tones the Stipa/Nassella but it is becoming a chore to keep it looking good, Deanne. I may need to downsize my crop of it.

      Delete
  2. Feather grass looks and feels so soft! I'm surprised that it's tough on your hands. What a genius idea to use a comb! Good grooming is always a good thing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was surprised to see what it did to my hands, too - through gloves no less!

      Delete
  3. Such a timely post! I have a bunch of these grasses and I am just so terrible at grooming them. I've read of many methods and tried most, but nothing works as well as I wish it would. Maybe the key lies in finding just the right comb?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried a few kinds of combs, Emily. One with slightly narrower tines than the black one I finally settled on might work better still.

      Delete
  4. The feather grass has been banished here because of its invasive ways, into every nook and cranny. I well remember trying all these grooming techniques! I found a couple Stipa barbata locally which I saw in bloom on the Fling. Very slow growing, sets little seed, but so beautiful. I'm glad to hear you like the lomandra. I attended a talk by San Marcos Growers a few months ago, and lomandra was pretty much the star.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the Lomandra, Denise. I think I have 8 already - I pick it up whenever I find it in 4-inch pots. It doesn't get the striking gold/blonde color of the Stipa, though, and it needs more space in the garden. I'll be interested in seeing how Stipa barbata does for you.

      Delete
  5. Wow that is a lot of grooming...my garden is a mess since I could not get out there all summer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Upkeep slows here in the summer too, Donna. Although it has been nominally cooler on average this year, it's still too hot to do much in the garden.

      Delete
  6. Yeah, it is way too invasive. Try Deer Grass instead. Doesn't even need to be groomed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll probably reduce the number of Stipa plants I have, Susan, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to remove it altogether. I know I do need to keep whatever I keep under control, though.

      Delete
  7. In my Seattle garden, all that fussy clean up work is not worth my time. Either I let it go until winter when no one notices the 'ugly' cleaned up plants, or I choose something with less work. Gardening is supposed to be a joy, not a chore!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my area of Southern California gardens have no winter downtime, Stephen. Mid-summer is probably the closest we get to an off-season. I've yet to discover a garden that doesn't benefit from some maintenance and, my whining post aside, taking care of the garden is part of the joy and satisfaction it brings to me.

      Delete
  8. Wow, talk about high maintenance! They do look great afterwards.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Your hard work has paid off because they certainly look better after the grooming.Feather grass is very invasive here but easy to pull out so I let it stay and I also groom. Mine usually get knotted tufts of seed heads. I generally pull the mature ones in the spring and let the new ones grow to replace them. That way they don't seed until the fall.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I noticed that the newer plants usually provide a grace period of sorts on seed production. Perhaps I'll try your method, although I may downsize the number of plants I have too.

      Delete
  10. They do look so nice when freshly groomed. I usually cut the tangled ends off once a year, and then occasionally run my hands through them to pull out any dead stalks. I love this grass, and don't mind it seeding around, the babies pull up quite easily.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Last year, the Stipa didn't seem to need as much grooming as this year. Perhaps that's the age of the plants, as Jenny's comment suggests, or perhaps related to the growing conditions this year. I'll keep a watch on them.

      Delete
  11. Brilliant idea to use a comb. They sure look better in the "after". I might try that on a carex or two, see what happens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have some Carex testacea I may try grooming that way - I haven't found any effective way of grooming C. 'Evergold' (except digging it up and cleaning the divisions before replanting).

      Delete
  12. I laughed when you mentioned them sprouting up in your driveway, the same thing has happened to my neighbors. For some reason though they don't pull them out, it looks ridiculous as they are kept short by the undercarriage of their cars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! When I saw the sprouts pop up in our driveway, it brought to mind that "Life After People" TV series that aired several years ago. I figure that 20 years after humans disappear, this particular spot of land will be a mimosa forest underplanted with Mexican feather grass.

      Delete
  13. I had to laugh a little bit! Your Mexican feather grass looked like me when I first get up in the morning. I can see you out there combing its hair. The results were great! Do you think you could do my hair?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you could see my hair most mornings, Deb, you wouldn't even ask...

      Delete
  14. My Stipa reseeds very politely here..I have no problems pulling it out where it is unwanted, and in fact I have none right at the moment.In terms of movement , there's nothing quite like it. Wonder how a flea comb would work--tines very close together might be just the ticket ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually tried a flea comb, Kathy. It does a good job on pulling out the seeds but I was concerned that the fine tines were harming the grass blades. The plants I used the flea comb on don't appear as "perky" after their combing as the set I tackled with the wider-toothed comb.

      Delete
  15. I have so many Stipa tenuissima that I couldn't even begin to count them. In most of the beds I like to 'comb' them but as you saw in my earlier posts on the slope I just cut them back, not so pretty but there were other plants to hide my brutality and they do grow back quite quickly; I don't find it difficult to pull seedlings probably easier than trying to stop them seeding!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hacked back the ones in the back of my backyard border last year too, Christina - as in your case, my hatchet job wasn't quite so visible in that area. The ones I've been laboring over at the moment sit along pathways, which makes them all too visible. Frankly, I went overboard with them in some areas and probably need to winnow some out, especially given the rising concerns of their invasiveness here.

      Delete
  16. The grooming is what puts me off some grasses. Of course your handy tip would have been great to know last year before I got rid of them. They do look great afterwards, a nice reward for your effort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even with my new approach, my hands got blisters yesterday when I set back to work cleaning more of them up, Angie, so don't mourn your ornamental grasses too much!

      Delete
  17. You combed your plants? That's insane but I love it! It's like having a giant Barbie head to play with. You could outsource that to a bunch of six year olds and pay them in cupcakes. :o) The grasses look beautiful after their trips to the salon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Six-year olds! I hadn't thought of seeking help there but it's a great idea.

      Delete
  18. Hi hi. Great idea with the comb! I have been looking to add few grass plants into my garden, and i think I will avoid buying this one. It looks nice but with the uncontrolled spread it may be a problem for my tiny borders.

    ReplyDelete

I enjoy receiving your comments and suggestions. However, with apologies to bona-fide commentators, due to a significant increase in spam, I've eliminated the option to post comments anonymously.