How to divide Ornamental Grass

Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii
Big Bluestem Blooming

Most species of Ornamental Grass that are grown in the garden are clump-forming with fibrous roots.  Over time, the base clumps of these grasses will increase in diameter.  Eventually, after 3-5 years these clumps will grow so large that the centers will die out.  Once this occurs, the ornamental grass will start to look sickly. 

So, in order to keep the grass plant looking healthy and vigorous you should divide the base clump.  In a nutshell, you are just going to dig up the entire clump, then cut the clump in half using a shovel, saw or knife.  This process is very similar to how you can divide other perennial flowers.

I have divided many ornamental grass plants over the years (as well as many other perennials). And the process is generally the same for all. But, in this article I’m going to show you how to do it. And if you do this early in Spring, the process is pretty much fool proof.

How to determine if you need to divide your Ornamental Grass?

In general, Ornamental Grasses should be divided every 3rd year.  Or, if the center of the clump doesn’t appear to be making any new growth.  If the center of the clump looks dead, then you should divide the plant.  So, if you see all of your plants ‘waking up’ from the winter, examine your ornamental grasses.  If you see new growth around the plant, but none in the center it may be time to divide.

A clump of grass as large as this (3-4′ diameter) is ready to divide. Note the center is starting to die.

When should you divide your Ornamental Grass? 

The best time to divide ornamental grasses is early in the Spring while temperatures are still cool.  Because of the cool temperatures there will not be a heat load on the plant, which means that it won’t require as much water.  Furthermore, the soil tends to stay more moist in the Spring.  Also, the grass will still be dormant.  Being nearly dormant means that there won’t be as much shock to the ornamental grass when it is cut in half.

How frequently should you divide ornamental grass?

Ornamental grass should be divided every 3-5 years, or when the center of the clump looks to be dieing out. I do this on Pink Muhly, Big Bluestem and Little Bluestem grasses.

Tools and Materials required for dividing ornamental grass

  • Garden Sheers or Clippers
  • Shovel or Spade
  • Pruning saw, bow saw, or gardening knife
  • Trowel
  • Top soil or potting soil for back fill
  • Watering can

Step by Step Guide to dividing Ornamental Grass with Pictures

1 – Water the ground thoroughly.  The day before you want to divide/transplant your ornamental grass, you should heavily water the ground.  Moist soil will make digging out the clump much easier.

2 – Cut back the dead grass from the previous year.  Locate your grass, and trim off the excess growth with clippers.

3 – Locate the entire Clump of Grass.  Clear away any mulch or leaf litter from the base of the plant.  You want to make sure you can identify the entire clump.

4 – Dig out the entire clump of grass.  Take your shovel and place it 2-4″ away from the clump.  Angle it at 30-45 degrees from vertical, and push it towards the center of the clump.  Then, gently rock the shove handle down to loosen the clump.  Repeat this step all the way around the outside of the clump.

5 – Remove the clump from the hole.  Then, stab the shovel one more time, getting under the entire clump.  You should be able to lift or pry up the entire clump.  If the clump is very large (3′ or 1 m in diameter), you can just verify that it is loose in the hole, then lower it back into the hole.  We can divide it inside it’s hole.

6 – Cut or chop the entire clump in half. Using a pruning saw, spade, or bow saw cut the clump in half. Depending how large it is, you could cut it into fourths or smaller.

7 – Replant the grasses. Once divided, replant the clumps of grass soon (within a couple hours). If done during cool moist weather there will be almost no transplant shock. But, if the outside temperatures are already pretty warm (70’s F / 21C) or the grass is actively growing, then you may want to place a chair or umbrella over the grass for a couple days to help with transplant shock.

Video guide to dividing ornamental grass

Below is a brief video I made some years ago documenting how to divide grass. It is short and to the point, and will give you all the necessary visuals. Hope you enjoy it!

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Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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