A Slow Burn

This past weekend we did a controlled burn on the ornamental grasses in the boulevard bed.  My husband manned the flamethrower and I had the hose. This is the result.photoControlled burns are tricky.

If you’re looking for a fast, easy way to clear out ornamental grasses, this isn’t it!  You can’t just set fire to eight foot tall grasses and keep it under control. So the first step is raking out all the leaves and cutting the dry grasses down close to the ground.  I use an old serrated bread knife.  I haven’t found electric hedge trimmers, which would speed things up and spare my joints, work on Prairie Dropseed grasses.

The tall grass along the fence is miscanthus sinensis, ‘Gracillimus.’ It’s only somewhat hardy here in zone 4b.  Sometimes it blooms, but most years we have a frost and it doesn’t.  Still, it’s a graceful and effective foil for the Prairie Dropseeds.photo

The second tricky thing about controlled burns is timing.  If you leave it too late, you’re better off not burning at all. Once the plants have noticeable new growth, you’ll burn off the blooms.

Late April is a good time to do this, but we’ve had a slow spring (blame the polar vortex, I do.) So even though it’s early May, almost no growth was in evidence.

I had a secret weapon that made the job much faster this year: child labor.  My 16-year-old son was a big help and I only had to play the it’s-almost-mother’s-day card once for him to volunteer to help me.

Why burn?

Fire helps stimulate new growth on these prairie grasses by removing accumulated dead grasses and exposing the plant’s crown to the sun.  It’s much more effective than trying to cut them back.

And it’s kinda fun. You get to justify owning a flamethrower! Not much piques male interest in the garden like shooting flames at it.  Just make sure you have the hose handy and let your neighbors know you’re doing a slow burn.

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