How, Why, and When to Cut Bunch Grasses

How, Why, and When to Cut Bunch Grasses

Tips for Bunch Grass Cutbacks on California’s Central Coast

In the Central Coast California Landscape, bunch grasses are a common landscape element. In some cases, huge swaths of showy grasses can be a bold botanic display of texture, movement, and glowing color. A bunch grass is a perennial grass that forms clumps as it grows. They can be as small as six inches or as large as eight feet tall, usually selected for their foliage and seed head plumage. On the central coast, most species are maintained by a significant yearly haircut to prepare for the next year’s growth.

When to Cut Bunch Grasses

Most bunch grasses are cut back so they look green and fresh for the next growing season, as well as to clear out dead foliage and debris for plant health. While some grasses don’t need to be cut back every year, others benefit from being cut back twice or more per year. For yearly cutbacks, the rule of thumb is to cut back after the last hard frost. Winter foliage can be attractive even if it is brown, and it protects the plant crown from frost damage. If the grass is particularly frost sensitive, the timing should be as late in the winter as possible.

In San Luis Obispo County, we tend to be split our grass cut-back timeframes between the beaches (Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Cambria, Los Osos, etc.), the coastal valleys (San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Edna, Nipomo, etc.) and North County (Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Santa Margarita).

Ryan maintains decorative grass
San Luis Obispo County Grass Cutbacks by Region

Grass cutbacks can start earliest on the beach zones because they have almost no frost and grasses start to grow even in the winter. December-January is good for most grasses along our beach towns. With the lack of frost, many more species of grass can be grown, such as Pennisetum setaceum rubrum, a beautiful Purple Fountain Grass. “Some grasses won’t show as much winter browning, so skipping their yearly cutbacks from time to time is acceptable. Because the growing season is so long, the window to cut back grasses is also more forgiving. Cutting browning grasses as late as March or April is better than not cutting them at all.”

In the coastal valleys, February is a great month to cut back grasses, but it can happen anytime between January and March. There is limited frost, so grasses such as the Purple Fountain Grass may wait until March, but most grasses are completely safe for a February cut. This zone is very similar to the beaches, but it may take a little longer for the grasses to green back up, hence the later cut.

Ryan maintains decorative grass

North County of San Luis Obispo County is much different than the rest of the county. The Santa Lucia Mountain Range separates it from ocean influence, making it much colder in the winter. For that reason, the cutbacks occur later to wait for the hard frosts to subside. In addition, most grasses in north county don’t start pushing new growth until April. February through April is the window for north county grass cutbacks, with March being an ideal month. While April is okay, cutting back the grasses after the spring flush should be avoided. While grass species are more limited in North County due to the cold, the explosive growth of the hot summer and the seasonal look of brown winter plumage can be stunning.

The bottom line for timing of grass cutbacks is to maximize the aesthetics and health of the plants. You want to minimize the downtime of a cut back bunch grass stump by waiting until the plant is just about to push new growth. Fine-tune the specific timing for your zone and grasses over the years to maximize your enjoyment of these versatile plants.

 
How to Cut Back Bunch Grasses
  1. Use sharp shears, pruners, hedgers, or bladed weed whackers to cut all blades and chutes as close to the ground as possible without damaging the crown of the plant.
  2. Hand pull any loose debris or dead plant material to prevent crown rot and allow for more air circulation.
  3. Pull back any mulch or debris at least 2” from the crown of the grass.
Ryan maintains decorative grass

Recommended Pruning Heights for Various Species

LOW: 2-4” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Festuca spp., Carex spp., Sesleria spp., Acoris spp., Juncus spp., Nassella spp., Melica spp., Bouteloua spp., Aristida spp., Calamagrostis spp., Muhlenbergia cappilaris, Ophiopogon spp., Stipa spp., Helictotrichon spp., Anemanthele spp., Pennisetum spp. (smaller varieties).
Non-Grass Species: Achillea spp., Zauschneria (Epilobium) spp., Nepeta spp., Teucrium spp., Coreopsis spp., Thymus spp., Erigeron spp., Salvia spathacea.

MEDIUM: 4-8” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Muhlenbergia rigens, Muhlenbergia dubia, Miscanthus spp. (small to medium varieties), Pennisetum spp. (larger varieties), Leymus spp.,
Non-Grass Species: Penstemon spp. (smaller varieties), Artemisia spp., Origanum spp.,

HIGH: 8-12” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Miscanthus spp. (larger varieties), Muhlenbergia dumosa, Cortaderia spp., Kniphofia spp.
Non-Grass Species: Penstemon spp. (larger varieties), Salvia spp. (some smaller varieties), Gaura spp., Lavandula (smaller varieties), Ribes spp., Perovskia spp., Eriogonum (smaller varieties).

 

Carex divulsa (LOW)

Muhlengergia Rigens (MEDIUM)

Interested in landscape maintenance, including bunch grass cutbacks? We are currently taking maintenance projects with a $400/month minimum. Fill out our Maintenance Request Form or contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263. 

Meet the Team: Cory Meyer, Certified Arborist

Meet the Team: Cory Meyer, Certified Arborist

How long have you worked at Madrone?
Since 2014. I met Rick when we were both volunteering for the Atascadero Native Tree Association (ANTA) circa 1990. I was working in parks for the City of Atascadero, and when I retired in 2013 Rick asked if I’d be interested in doing work for Madrone.

What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone?
It’s a great company to work with. The employees are committed to quality, and they care about the environment.

Over the years, Cory has stepped in for Santa Claus at Madrone holiday parties.

What do you enjoy most about your job/specialization?
I started getting into plants when I was about 21 years old. I grew to be interested in trees when I moved to Atascadero in 1985 because of the oaks around. Once I started volunteering with ANTA, I became really interested in preserving trees around the area. I really enjoy being able to preserve our oak woods in the area. Also, watching tree planting projects I’ve been involved with and seeing the growth of the trees I’ve planted over the years is very satisfying.

What is your favorite Madrone project and why?
I don’t know about a favorite. They are all interesting to me. I might be consulting on how a design or construction can least impact the existing trees in the area, troubleshooting trees that don’t look healthy and providing a diagnosis, or working around the oak trees. I love it all.

What is your favorite, or least favorite, plant and why?
Valley Oak are my favorite oak trees – they’re the largest growing oak tree in North America and they can last for several hundred years. My least favorite is the Ailanthus – the tree of heaven. It’s not a native and it’s extremely invasive.

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
I play a game called pétanque. It’s like bocce only it’s a French version involving tossing rather than rolling. Also, pétanque can be played on different terrains. I also like to volunteer with Atascadero Land Preservation Society (ALPS).

Give us a fun fact about you!
I have four desert tortoises as pets. The way that they can exist and hibernate through the winter without food or water is very interesting to me. They are very low maintenance and can live 80-100 years if property taken care of.

Our arborist services are available at any phase of your project – in design, during construction, or with maintenance. For more details, contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Healthy Gardens for Fall

Healthy Gardens for Fall

Redefining the Standard of Landscape Care on California’s Central Coast

With fall comes cooler temperatures. While some of us may not see frost until later in the year, getting your gardens to bed and landscape in shape for the winter can make all the difference the following spring.

As part of our landscape maintenance services, Madrone Landscapes offers a fertilizer and soil-building program called Healthy Gardens to keep your landscape thriving. Members of our maintenance team visit your property in the spring and fall. They will apply organic fertilizer and compost tea and use other methods to restore the nutrients and minerals plants require for lush, uninhibited growth.

The soil food web is the community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil. This complex living system interacts with the environment, plants, and animals. It consists in part of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and insects. Our goal is to restore the natural processes required to make the organisms available for the plant life they support through organic soil building.

Daniel Mazawa, Madrone’s General Manager, is a champion of organic soil building and changing our relationship with vegetation, soil, and water. He sees three objectives to the Healthy Gardens program: lessen the excess use of chemicals, build the soil, and redefine the standard of care. “By replacing chemical fertilizers and herbicides with organic fertilizer and compost tea, we begin the process of bringing the soils back to life,” explains Daniel.

Using our exclusive compost tea, specially formulated by Red Frog Compost Teas, we reinvigorate the soil with living organisms that nature has set into place to manage healthy soils. The micro-organisms leach toxins from the soil, break down soil compaction, and process organic matter. This method creates more porous soil, which is optimal for root growth and water storage. It also frees up bound minerals and nutrients that are otherwise unavailable for root uptake and helps prevent the invasion of pests and disease.

Actively aerating the soil or turf area of your property improves the texture of the soil and its ability to breathe. Core aeration is a mechanical process that removes plugs or cores of soil and grass to increase deep water penetration and open root zones to oxygen.

The application of organic fertilizer is another key service of our Healthy Gardens program. While compost tea is a brew of microbiology that increases the decomposers in the soil, this granular fertilizer introduces nitrogen and other nutrients to rebuild soil nutrition and the microbial community. The nutrients applied are more readily available to the plants without leaching harmful synthetic chemicals into our watersheds.

Madrone’s combination of organic soil building methods ensures the establishment of a thriving soil food web and, in turn, a healthy garden. Reach out and learn more about how Healthy Gardens can be added to Weekly or Garden Detail maintenance programs. Contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Coner Boaen Promoted to Maintenance Manager

Coner Boaen Promoted to Maintenance Manager

It was 2018 when we first introduced Coner Boaen to you. He had recently joined Madrone Landscapes as a service technician and was running his own crew as a project manager for our construction team.

Fast forward three years and we’re pleased to announce Coner’s promotion to maintenance manager.

“It’s extremely gratifying to move Coner into a position of leadership,” says Rick Mathews, Madrone Landscapes owner and founder. “Coner is known for his quality of work, communication, and professionalism.” Our clients appreciate his in-depth knowledge culled from 18 years in the landscaping service and construction industry.

As manager of our maintenance department, Coner focuses on client care and sustainable maintenance. Madrone has long been proud to go beyond simple mow and blow services, a philosophy Coner embraces. “From our Weekly Maintenance or Garden Detail Maintenance services to our Healthy Gardens option, Madrone focuses on plant health, aesthetics, and the effective use of water,” explains Coner.

A key to reliable service is the skillful supervision and training of our expert crews. A natural mentor, Coner regularly finds opportunities to train and educate his team on landscape maintenance practices and procedures as well as client service skills. “Just as every garden is different, every client has their own unique expectations for their garden and how they work with us. Our services deliver what an individual property or garden needs when it needs it.”

Learn more about our maintenance services. For more details, contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Key Benefits, Types, and Methods of Using Mulch in California Landscapes

It’s almost insane how many ways mulching adds to the success of California landscapes. It is easily one of the most useful practices one can do in the garden. Mulching is a great way to control weeds, retain moisture and protect your soil. It also hides and protects drip lines, keeps dust down, provides a safe, relatively clean walking surface, and looks better than bare ground. Mulches can prevent erosion on slopes, and organic mulches improve soil structure.

Saves Time and Money

One of the most important benefits of mulching is it saves time and money! By reducing weeds, especially annuals, by up to 90%, landscaping labor costs are reduced significantly. Mulching can reduce or even eliminate the need for costly and toxic herbicides. And mulch can significantly conserve soil moisture, reducing the cost of irrigation. Many California Coast gardens use surface-mounted drip irrigation and mulching serves to visually cover up and protect drip lines, which are vulnerable to damage and weathering, thus saving on costs to repair or replace.

Promotes Healthy Landscapes

Mulching promotes healthy plants and garden areas by reducing competition from weeds by preventing their germination. The decomposition of mulch also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, improving soil by adding organic matter that feeds beneficial organisms. Mulching reduces soil compaction and insulates plants against temperature extremes. A 2-inch mulch layer can cut summer soil evaporation by 20% and lower temperatures in the top 4 inches of soil by 10 degrees. There is a notable improvement in establishing young plants and trees when mulch is used.

Reduces Soil Erosion

Another benefit of mulch is how it reduces soil erosion. Covering the soil simply helps keep soil in place when exposed to rain and wind. This is especially true on slopes, by deflecting the impact of raindrops, which in turn reduces stormwater runoff and creek erosion.

It Just Looks Good

Mulch is often the finishing touch for planting areas. In addition to the functional benefits, it just looks good! A clean, uniform mulch layer helps to really tie the garden together.

Mulching with a Multitude of Materials

There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for mulching. The style and design of your individual garden or landscape will inform as to which types might be best for you. Bark and wood products are the most common types of mulches on the Central Coast. But there are many others, such as stone – from colorful rocks and boulders down to a wide variety of gravel and even decomposed granite. An under-layer of sheet mulching can be employed using newspapers, cardboard and even plastic sheeting. Living mulches (e.g. Dutch white clover) are cover crops planted around crops or between crop rows, adding nitrogen to the soil while discouraging noxious weeds.

We want to call attention to Recycled Organic Mulches. These can include chipped or shredded wood chips, compost, simple fallen leaves or pine needles, or even grass clippings. We also favor chipper mulch from local tree trimming operations. Our endorsement of these recycled materials stems from the fact that these materials are not only potentially an attractive ground cover and mulch, but they are by-products that don’t have to be shipped long distances, and mulching with them contributes to maintaining their usefulness in another form (good for sustainability).

Consider Flammability

With all the benefits of mulching, also comes an issue of organic mulch’s combustibility and wildfire safety. In areas of many California communities, there is a real need to consider how to reduce hazardous conditions, and how mulching can play a useful role and not contribute to wildfire danger.

An in-depth study conducted at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension of landscape mulch types analyzed their relative combustibility, flame height, rate of spread, and temperatures. They demonstrated a wide range of variability in mulch type combustibility, suggesting the need to consider flammability when choosing mulches. In general, it is obvious that the least flammable mulch types should be used closest to vulnerable homes and structures, and the study recommends “not using any organic mulch within five feet of a house located in wildfire-prone areas.”

How Much Mulch?

Planting areas should be mulched as needed to maintain a 2- to 4-inch layer. Plan on refreshing your mulched areas periodically. An annual inspection usually keeps you apprised of how often additional mulching is needed. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the stems and trunks of plants to avoid moisture-related fungus and bacteria problems. When mulching individual trees planted in lawns, create a circle of mulch about 2 feet in diameter for each inch of trunk diameter, even out to the edge of the canopy of mature trees if possible. If irrigating mulched areas with overhead irrigation, make sure that the water penetrates the mulch layer. Mulch can absorb the water and prevent its ever reaching soil.

We Love Mulch!

Mulching covers and cools the soil, conserves moisture, suppresses weed growth, slows erosion and adds nutrients as it decomposes. It also hides and protects drip lines. Plus, it looks good. What’s not to love?

Learn more about our maintenance program. Have questions about our mulching services? Contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Fertigation: Fertilize and Irrigate All in One

Fertigation: Fertilize and Irrigate All in One

Set it, forget it. Give plants the nutrients without all the hassle.

We’re all familiar with irrigation. It’s been a means of maintaining landscapes and growing crops for thousands of years. Applying controlled amounts of water helps supplement natural rainfall and contribute to soil moisture from groundwater.

Fertigation combines fertilization and irrigation, serving as a nutrient delivery system for landscapes. It can be used via drip irrigation, spray nozzles, and heads.

Madrone Operations Manager Erik Gorham has provided fertigation services for almost a decade. He uses the EZ-FLO products to treat a wide variety of landscape issues. To start the process, our trained Madrone team first installs a dispensing system in the valve box connected to the main line of a pre-existing sprinkler system. The unit then feeds both drip and sprinkler zones by micro-dosing the landscape with every irrigation. “You really can forget about it, because part of our landscape maintenance program includes filling the unit with fertilizer every four to six weeks,” Erik shares.

We use Red Frog Compost Teas as part of our organic fertilizer program. The compost tea improves soil and plant health by improving nutrient availability and retention in the soil. “Biology feeds the plant,” explains Erik. “Typically, what plants need is in the soil. But if your soil is depleted, the worm castings offer an excellent soil amendment that is safe around children and pets.”

Savings on labor and energy costs can quickly offset the initial investment in a fertigation system. A homeowner who lives in an area affected by drought or water restrictions may prefer fertigation because they can better manage the nutrients and water supply going to multiple parts of the growing area as well as increase water efficiency. It also gives them the ability to add nutrients directly into the root zone that may be otherwise difficult to access.

Erik sees it as an affordable investment to every landscape. “You chose your plants carefully. Help them mature more quickly and stay healthy by using this easy fertilizer system all year round.”

Learn more about our maintenance services. For more details, contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.