Sunday, May 31, 2015

Coppicing deer grass rejuvenates it so fast!


This deer grass had started to look permanently bleached, with a thick thatch
It was with trepidation (and a lot of effort!) that five weeks ago, I took the shears to a huge deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) --

Will it grow back? How long will it take?

-- which Ms. Town Mouse gave me, I forget - five years ago? It had outgrown her space. That thick thatch was, I fear, a cosy home for some mice! And I don't think there were many new flower spikes last year.

Also, I confess: it had started to outgrow my space -- but well, that's my fault.

You have to give deer grass room!

I like deer grass so much, I planted a row of three more in front of my greenhouse - partly to shade the bottom rack inside the greenhouse behind them. They look lovely, but maybe two more would have been plenty.

Why didn't I coppice them all? My nickname should be the Hesitant Horticulturist: I was timid. I wasn't sure how fast it would grow back, or if I'd waited too long.

A Master Gardener site says that early in spring is a good time - and so does Helen Popper in her wonderful California Native Gardening: a month-by-month guide  (Read Ms. Town Mouse's xlnt review here.)

In another place, late winter is recommended.

End of April is not really early spring - but it worked out for me, maybe because May has been so cool and foggy for us this year. So I'll try to remember and post about this in February next time!

Deer grass is a fantastic, large, mounding, warm season native grass, with tall, stiff spikes, and it's dependable. It likes a little water but doesn't need much. I think mine get by on the runoff from my watering in the greenhouse (the floor is just mulch).  They do need room to show off their lovely form.

Things are looking up -- now at the end of May, look at that coppiced plant! I'm so happy - I had forgotten that they could be green!

Five weeks after coppicing
(BTW do you see the little seedling between the larger plants? It's the only one I've seen.)

I'm not sure planting the pelargoniums back there was a good idea either
but they look kinda pretty threading through the blond grass. For now anyway!

You can see the old stems in there - I imagine they'll kind of mulch-out over time.

I plan to use this plant more in the garden - despite my fear of fire - I know now that I have the power of coppicing!

In fact I can pretty easily propagate what I need by dividing the plants I have. If I dig up all the deer grass this winter (or maybe all but the original which I love just where it is), I can get say nine divisions. It'll be hard work but worth it! I can put two back in front of the greenhouse -- for that nice three-plant spread which I know now is best (or maybe I'll be ready to try something else there) -- and I'll have seven plants to establish elsewhere - a swathe or other structural element in the garden. Deer grass is great for that.

Deer and rabbits will nibble young plants but I haven't had any trouble with them since the plants grew larger. So I'll protect the divisions when I plant them out, for a while.

In fact for fall, I'm hoping I'll be able to propagate enough of my key species to create large swathes - which in a big garden like this (and for the benefit of pollinators) is definitely the way to go.




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