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Retail Newsletter from Bluestem Nursery

April 2003

Welcome to our very first newsletter! Thanks to all of you who have subscribed.

Our website has been up and running since the end of February. Thanks for all the kudos, but we know we have a long ways to go to make it really good. We will continue to build many more pages and add many more pictures and make the ordering system better! So please give us ideas and suggestions. If the website doesn't work for you, then it also doesn't work for us.

Shipping season has begun with the willows, and the cool season grasses. The warm season grasses will move out in a week or so.

Willow Talk

Salix nakamurana v. yezoalpina
Salix nakamurana v. yezoalpina

Here in the snow has been gone for awhile. The catkins on some of our willows are out and on many others they have yet to appear, giving us a steady progression of these furry little friends.

We also get lots of requests for willows that have colored stems for winter interest. For a slightly different take on "winter interest" how about the picture on the right? This low-growing willow (Salix nakamurana v. yezoalpina) stops people in their tracks! Without any help from me, it hugs the rock as it flows up, over and down.

Later this year we will be greatly expanding the willow section of our website. Liz Primeau predicts, in the current Canadian Gardening Magazine, that shrubs will be the next "big thing" in gardening. With willows being relatively unknown in North America (not so in Europe however!), these beautiful and extremely versatile plants will no doubt become much more widely used.

A most interesting use for them is for living structures. For instance, I have started a fedge. It is a cross between a fence and a hedge. Just stick the willow branches in the ground and they sprout leaves and branches, forming a hedge. Pictures next time.

Stay tuned for lots more information about the many, many uses of willows.

Salix (Willows) page of our website


Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses

Last year's growth on the cool-season grasses should be cut down as soon as the snow is gone. These plants literally "leap" out of the ground in the spring. Many a year I have had lush plants with chopped off leaf tips due to not taking care of this task early enough!

How best to cut back the grasses you ask? Here at Bluestem Nursery we use a sickle (that's Jim cutting back Pennisetum alopecuroides in the picture). One year, we went against our principles and burned the nursery grasses down. However, one must check to see if there are any restrictions in your area before burning. DO NOT burn the dead foliage off of cool season grasses. The growing tips can be damaged.

Cutting back ornamental grasses in the spring

Heavier grasses can be cut back with a hedge trimmer or a weed eater-type machine, using a blade rather than the nylon line. Be careful not to cut cool season grasses back too far, as they can be damaged beyond repair. Leave approximately 1/3 of last year's growth in place. It will quickly be hidden by the new growth.

We have recently seen a novel approach to warm season grasses. Rather than cut them back first thing in the spring, leave them standing as long as possible. The buff-colored foliage contrasts wonderfully with the new growth of the Spring bulbs.

Whenever you choose to cut back warm-season grasses, they can be cut right down to the ground without any problem. If you leave it real late, just try not to cut off the new leaf tips by leaving 6 - 8" of old growth so as not to damage the new leaves.

Some grasses have very sharp edges. The wearing of gloves is highly recommended. Around Miscanthus it is should be mandatory.

TIP: When I cut my ornamental grasses off in late winter or spring, they create a
straw-like mess in the lawn. I've found that if I take a large bungie cord, stretch it around the grass about 2 feet up and then cut the grass, it works very well. It keeps the mess to a minimum and I can carry it away in one bunch. I have 50 grasses in my yard, so I need to make the chore as easy as I possibly can.

Julie Thompson in Northeast Iowa


UPDATE: A better method of cutting back grasses! Check out our blog.

All this talk of warm and cool season grasses has probably got you asking, "Just which ones are warm and which ones are cool season?" Below is a chart of grasses that Bluestem Nursery carries. Note however that in some climates, Koeleria, Festuca and Helictotrichon are virtually evergreen and therefore will not need to be cut back. Rather than a haircut, just give them a "combing".

Cool Season Grasses

Warm Season Grasses


Note: Luzula, Juncus and some Carex are evergreen (they are not technically grasses)


Ornamental Grasses page of our website

Have you even visited a forum on the Internet? GardenWeb has one of the most popular ones and I believe they have the only one devoted entirely to ornamental grasses.



A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.
- Doug Larson


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