On the ground, brown comes down

It's that time of year when I have to start thinking about cleaning up the yard, removing all of the dead foliage from last season's annuals, perennials, vines, grasses, and ground cover bamboos. I have mixed feelings about these tasks, because it means my yard gets "flat" for a while, and really opens up. Loses its privacy.

It also means that I lose all of the interesting textures and different shades of brown that I've been seeing for the last few months, like in this photo. Of course this cleanup makes way for this season's new growth, but it still makes me a little sad to see all of the browns go. It's a lot of work too, so I'll start with something small and simple today: the ground cover bamboos.


The species that I grow as ground covers aren't expected to retain any green leaves through the winter, and they get cut down every spring to make way for the new growth, just like any other ornamental grass -- you knew bamboo is in the grass family, right?

I'll start with this Pleioblastus fortunei, which is spreading nicely even though it's been flowering for the last two years and I expect it will do so again this year. Here's what it looked like this summer:

It didn't show any signs of dying last year, so that's a good thing -- bamboos that flower will often die after producing seeds.

Back to the present and the browns...

There's a little bit of green left close to the ground, which is somewhat amazing:

For mowing these down, the tool of choice for me is these shears:

They're not the best cutting tool I own, but they do the job:

Although I'll rake up the cut culms and most of the leaves, I won't worry about getting them all. The remaining leaves will act as mulch, and once the new shoots start growing you'll never be able to see the ground anyway. In fact, right after cutting is the best time to mulch these ground cover bamboos if you're going to mulch at all -- once the foliage grows it's a lot more work.

Looks like I did this at the right time, as there are signs of new growth already!

With that patch done, I'll move on to a larger patch of a different species: Pleioblastus viridistriatus.

Yes it's dead, but it's an attractive sort of dead I think.

There is a small patch of Japanese bloodgrass here too, and although I'm planning on digging it all up soon I'm going to just shear it back now too.

This bamboo patch is a bit larger than the first so it might make sense to just get the lawnmower out and run this patch down. One problem with that strategy is this tree stump that's hidden in there:

The other problem is that the lawnmower is sort of buried in the garage and it would take me longer to get it out, gas it up, and get it back here than it would for me to just shear the plants down by hand, so that's what I'll do. Plus I can use the exercise -- it will help me get in shape for moving all of the big pots of bamboo and other plants in a month or two.

Again I'll leave some of the leaves as mulch, and because I'm really never interested in raking up every single leaf.

There's quite a bit of green underneath in this patch, so it must have been pretty well protected by the thick, taller growth:

This leaf even retained a bit of the wonderful, bright green -- almost yellow -- color that these leaves have in the spring:

It won't be too much longer before I get to see that again, and that's what makes cutting down these wonderful patches of foliage bearable for me. Here's a reminder what it looked like in the summer:

Pleioblastus viridistriatus. I miss this color now that I see it again!

Out with the old, in with the new. Soon. I hope. Please?

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Anonymous –   – (March 1, 2011 at 9:21 AM)  

Dear Alan, I am afraid that I do not share your love of the swathes of dessicated foliage that you feature here. To me it just looks as it is......dead! How much nicer to have it sheared to the ground and covered in a duvet of glorious compost, ready for the vibrant new growth to come shining through.

Your summer photographs of the Bamboos look magnificent!

Alan  – (March 1, 2011 at 9:39 AM)  

Edith: It's not that I prefer the dead leaves, it's just that I'd rather see them than bare ground. =)

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (March 1, 2011 at 10:00 AM)  

Alan, I actually do like the look of the dead bamboo leaves (and culms). They're very sculptural. Amazing to see all that growth. It won't be long now before there's green everywhere, especially since your temps are above freezing at night now, right?

Alan  – (March 1, 2011 at 10:06 AM)  

We still get below freezing, usually into April. You warm-climate gardeners forget what it's like. ;-)

Darla  – (March 1, 2011 at 10:15 AM)  

Oh but the treasures that lie beneath!

Karen  – (March 1, 2011 at 11:12 AM)  

Hi, Alan. Saw your reply to Ree about gearing down her site and decided to pay you a visit. I'm a gardener, too, in the NW. You're right, it's not work. For me, it's therapy and exercise and joy. I enjoyed the 5 or 6 posts I read. Good, helpful info. Here's to spring and fresh plantings! blessings on your day.

Anonymous –   – (March 1, 2011 at 11:48 AM)  

I like the first photo especially because of the tall medium and low textures. I enjoy all the stages in a garden with seasons. I used to live in So California where there weren't definite changes and now in the mountains, I like winter's mellow muted colors, even if they are browns.

Christine  – (March 1, 2011 at 12:39 PM)  

Hi Alan - The Pleioblastus viridistriatus is in a word, Stunning! I love it.

Anonymous –   – (March 4, 2011 at 8:48 AM)  

I agree that it feels rather sad to be cutting down all that tawny old foliage - it has a quiet beauty all its own in your photographs. And sometimes we gardeners spend too much time longing for Spring, and not enough just enjoying what we have. God luck with all the work in your garden this season, and thanks for your kind words on my post on Green Walls.

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