Ornamental grasses can be left long until spring

Ornamental grasses can be left long until spring

Tracey FitzgibbonQ: We planted several ornamental grasses this past spring and they have grown and settled in perfectly. Now what do we need to do for them for the winter months? Cut them down? – G.F., Albuquerque

A: You have two options for the grasses.

First, do nothing to them and have more visual interest in your gardens throughout this dormant season. The ornamental grasses are probably wearing seed heads that are, in my opinion, very pretty now that they’ve grown to maturity. The leaves have probably changed color too, again offering lots of visual interest. Leaving the grass long will help insulate the grass plants all winter long.

But if you are a neat freak, then you can go ahead and cut the ornamental grasses down into tidy mounds. It’s really up to you.

I have “bunny ears” grass that has shown up in my landscaping and it’s a hoot to watch the tiny (and very light) finches hold on to the stems that support the seed heads while feeding on nature’s bounty.

I wouldn’t worry about tidying up those grass plants until early spring next year. Just remember to water periodically during the dormant season, unless we’re blessed with precipitation.

Q. What should I be doing with the hollyhock plants I have now that they have frozen and gone to sleep? – L.B., Albuquerque

A. My Albuquerque Gardeners Guide, “Down to Earth” suggests that you should cut down and “remove all hollyhock debris.” It’s recommended also that you dispose of that material, perfect to add to the green waste recycle collections that will begin soon.

Don’t add that spent material to a compost pile since there might be nasty critters living among the spent hollyhocks. You don’t want to offer them a cozy temperate spot to winter over.

Evidently, the more of the debris you can collect and remove will be healthier for your hollyhocks. Hope this helps you keep your hollyhocks healthy and ready to grow again next year.

Q: Last week you mentioned forcing bulbs to grow indoors. I’ve never done that and wonder what type of bulbs you can force. Suggestions? Thanks. – G.T., Los Lunas

A: Forcing bulbs is one of my favorite projects to do during the winter dormant months. The two typical choices you’ll find now, ready to be forced are paperwhite narcissus and the magical amaryllis bulbs. These creatures have been pre-chilled or rather tricked into thinking it’s time to grow.

But you can “force” lots of others. I will strongly suggest that when you are out and about bulb shopping, that you read the packaging completely and aim for bulbs that tend to be short at maturity. Trying to grow, let’s say, a collection of King Alfred daffodils, with a mature height of 18 inches, could come with issues of needing to offer support. Most inconvenient for sure.

So, be sure to read and purchase bulbs that will be, at maturity 6-to-8-inches tall, upwards to 10 inches. You can, with research, find bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and crocus that will fit the bill.

I’m a daffodil fan and forcing containers of a variety called Tete-a-Tete brings me weeks of joy. The bright yellow blooms with the perfect green strap leaves keep me happy. I usually also have gobs of the paperwhites growing too, so my world is awash with flowers.

If you are going to force bulbs other than paperwhites or amaryllis, they need to be chilled to “trick” them when you do put them in your containers. So shop for bulbs that tend to stay short, then place them in paper bags and put them in the vegetable crisper bin in the refrigerator. They’ll need to sit there for a couple of weeks. Notice I did not say freezer. You want to keep them chilled, not frozen.

Now get out there and find the bulbs you want to force and we’ll continue this conversation next week.

Meanwhile, Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to features@abqjournal.com.


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