Digging/Dividing up big mounds of Miscanthus

stimpy926January 14, 2007

Hi folks,

I have 3 large clumps, overdue for dividing. I'm no spring chicken anymore, and this task, for me alone that is, looks impossible. I'm imagining either getting a mule, winch, or tow truck, to pull them out of the ground. How do you do it?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Do the deed right after you give them their annual haircut, in late winter to early spring.

Take your strongest square-nosed spade, and file or grind it to a razor edge. The sharper you get it, the easier the job. Take the file out with you, and touch up the edge a few times while you work.

Starting at the perimeter of the clump, cut out sections a little smaller than you can easily handle, and either pot them up or replant them in the ground. Start the spade with your foot, and use a hand sledge on the top edge of the blade to drive it through.

There's no good reason to dig out the entire crown in one piece, and the chances are you'll want to discard the center-most section anyway.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 7:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hemnancy(z8 PNW)

A friend uses a hatchet and hammer to divide tough grasses- hammer the top of the hatchet blade to drive it through the roots. This is probably best done out of the ground, but might split some off to be dug up.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 9:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Depends how big your clumps are and what variety you have. I hate to stunt my grasses when they are moved, so I dig up a lot of root ball. I start digging 12" to 18" out from the clump. I trace this enlarged circle around the outside of the clump. I dig down at an angle to a point around 18" deep underneath the clump. This gives me a ice cream cone chunk of soil. Unfortunately, this leaves a bomb crater size hole and leaves me exhausted trying to leverage out the soil and root ball with a pair of long handled shovels. Once out , I use a double bladed axe to split the root ball. On big grasses, I get a crack sound like splitting wood. Regarding the Spring Chicken thing, you might consider getting a couple high school kids to do the hard work.

Regarding the dividing of the grass before digging it out, I have never been able to do this with large miscanthus no matter how sharp my tools or how hard I pound. Even working on the edges of the clump, this method is more like ripping and tearing than dividing.

Your idea of using a truck or winch isn't such a bad idea. The grower that I know has a bad back and used a back hoe to dig up Miscanthus Floridulus. As I get older, I am looking more at dividing my big grasses before they spread too much, or placing soil barriers into the ground to prevent them from getting too large. On my medium sized miscanthus, just planting into a circle cut into landscape fabric keeps them restrained for years. I've been growing ornamental grass for only twelve years, but have enjoyed it immensely.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 12:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

deeproot..large grasses, especially Miscanthus, don't need tender handling. I use this speade, from Wolverine:

The blade is 15x7 and the steel handle is 50" long. When sharp, it slices through a Miscanthus rootmass easily and cleanly. It cuts a 2" tree root with nothing other than my weight.

When I've cut out a section of Miscanthus, I usually bareroot it, and use pruners to trim the roots back to just ~10" long, and I cut out dead roots, to fully refresh the new division. When the foliage is trimmed back to within a couple of inches of the crown, it doesn't require as much root. I haven't noticed any difference in regrowth.

I use the same spade to restrain the spread of Miscanthus, by root pruning it. Two circles around the plant, a couple of inches apart, is all it takes. I then pull out runners, and either toss them or replant them. The ones replanted take perfectly, even in nursery pots.

These are very tough plants. It's difficult to damage them by division or transplanting.

Regarding axes. I can see the hatchet solution hemnancy suggests, other than the fact that it would be difficult to drive it deeply enough. I never, however, recommend using an axe, unless I know the user is an expert axeman. Not many people can hit the target with a fully swung axe, and the tool can do a lot of damage, to both the plant and the user, if he isn't experienced.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 7:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Good catch Donn. I sometimes take for granted that the tools I use are easily used by others. By the way, nice Wolverine steel-handled spade! For tough-rooted Ravennae Grass, the short stubble after trimming acts as a good shock absorber. I can jump up and down on my spades with an 'undisclosed' amount of weight and not get a clean cut through the top. With your nicer spade, you seem to have no issues. How much pounding can you do on the top of the handle with a sledge hammer?

For an unorthodox use of a tool, I have considered digging down around only one side of a clump and using a large-toothed bow-saw to saw off a large division. I suppose that aligns with my use of a chain saw to cut down my large grasses in Spring. I probably make make a lot of tool users cringe.

Most of my grasses are still manageable. Although, I have one in particular that has an 8' diameter clump after five years. I divided off a couple sections, but it keeps coming on strong. This may require some serious planning.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 1:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Deep..I've wailed away on the non-step side of that blade with a 3# hand sledge, and you can barely tell it was hit. It's an amazing spade. Way too heavy to use all day, but I don't have to do that.

I saved the first chain from my chainsaw for in-ground use. It wasn't the type of chain I like, so I only use it for cutting out stumps and such.

I just started my first Ravenna clumps last year, and they're still in 2-gallon nursery pots. They'll go into the ground this spring, so I have a while before I have to worry about them.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2007 at 3:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardenlady48(z5 IL)

Don, the spade from Wolverine sounds awesome and I will keep that one in mind when shopping. However, because we have many mature OG and revamped a few gardens on a large scale....my husband comes in with the Bobcat, thank God! Smaller grasses are done by hand of course. :-)

    Bookmark   January 20, 2007 at 11:16AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Donn, the Wolverine steel spade sounds like a nice buy for this Spring. If nothing else, it might be therapeutic to use it with my sledge hammer to pound out a few frustrations. Regarding your Ravenna clumps, I bought a quart container of it in 1995. Today it is in five good size clumps. This is one of my favorite grasses, as it was the first ornamental grass I purchased; it came from an old man who has since passed; and the long-lasting, tall plumes are beautiful swaying in the wind or against the sky. The large clumps have an almost woody root ball. In zone 5a, the grass is one of my last to get going in the Spring. It also is more prone to center die out. However, it quickly gets going in June and sends up 12' flower heads by the end of Summer.

Should I try out the Wolverine spade..., did you find yours in a retail store or online; can you pound on top of the handle and get a little more than the 15" of blade into the ground; and does the blade or handle start to bend when prying large separated clumps from the ground?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 12:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Deep..I bought the spade online, from Gemplers.

If you wiggle the spade fore and aft in it's hole, you'll widen the hole enough to pound or stomp the blade much further than 15" deep.

The handle is oval in profile down near the blade. The oval shape is front to back, which adds rigidity. I've been able to flex it slightly (I'm 6'2" 230#) but haven't been able to bend either the handle or the blade.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 7:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I use a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade to divide.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 2:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

I checked Gemplers. Wow! They aren't giving those spades away. However, I would rather have a quality tool than regretting a poor one for several years. I did not realize that Wolverine Tools was headquartered in Holland, Michigan, not too far away from where I live. I see they also offer this spade with a diamond point tip.

It will be a few months until my first divisions this year, but I have an enormous amount of divisions to do.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2007 at 12:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Today I ran across how to divide miscanthus on the site of Bluestem Nursery in British Columbia, Canada. They have been culturing ornamental grasses for years. I have included the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bluestem method of dividing grass

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 10:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

The older & bigger a clump of OG gets, the more difficult it is to divide ~ Major understatement!
One, two, three, four or even five year old grasses are not toooo much trouble BUT the really big, older clumps sure do require a lot of sweat equity.

We usually dig around the perimeter of the clump in question - just like you would if you were digging up a tree or shrub. Then we take a sharp tool (preferably one you can pound with a sledge) and divide the grass into two or three (while it is still in the hole). Our tool of choice is either a large splitting maul accompanied by a sledge hammer or a long-handled, sharpened, ice chipper. The smaller chuncks can then be dragged out of the hole.
If smaller 'potable' chunks are required, I use a hatchet and a small sledge hammer. I don't swing the axe at the clump. Rather, the axe blade is placed in just the right spot and then struck with the sledge.
These are tried & true 'girly' methods ....

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 2:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Achnatherum, you're killing me with the 'girly' method comment. LOL! For anyone interested, I've found the Wolverine spade for sale online at the following sites with Terratech having the better price. I've corresponded with a bamboo/palm grower who has used a Wolverine spade without sharpening it for a few years and is still happy. He said it was heavy, but had good penetration. He has bent pry bars, but not the spade. However, after reading the Bluestem Nursery article indicating a 'sharp' spade will divide most grasses, I am wondering how spades work on larger clumps of grasses like Miscanthus 'Floridulus', Miscanthus 'Silver Tower', Sacchariflorus Ravennae, etc.? I have also found other all steel tools like the 'Slammer', which has a pipe that fits over the shovel handle that can be lifted and slammed down to make the spade penetrate without a separate sledge.

Links to the Wolverine All-Steel Long-Handled Spade:

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 3:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Deep..compare freight on that spade, as well. Gempler ships from the midwest, and terratech from the PNW, and the spade is not a light item.

PS..I used mine to root prune a ~75 foot perimeter bamboo grove last fall. It's tucked in between a ratty old Locust and a Maple, and the Wolverine chewed through the tree roots like they weren't there.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2007 at 3:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Maybe part of the difference in dividing grasses is how much root accompanies each division. I am taking the major section of visible roots, which means I dig down anywhere from 14" to 24" into the soil. Has anyone found they need less rootball? If so, how much?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 4:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm finally checking back in to find great information, thanks so much everyone. I can definely relate to the girly method LOL. I feel more confident about tackling my grass clumps.

In 3-4 years time, however, I'll be back in the same situation, I didn't know you could successfully contain a monster like Miscanthus (I haven't read through all previous threads, if it's there I apologize).....deep roots - if you don't mind, could you elaborate when you say "... As I get older, I am looking more at dividing my big grasses before they spread too much, or placing soil barriers into the ground to prevent them from getting too large. On my medium sized miscanthus, just planting into a circle cut into landscape fabric keeps them restrained for years. I've been growing ornamental grass for only twelve years, but have enjoyed it immensely."

Do you mean putting landscape fabric barrier under the root ball, when planting it, with a hole in the bottom of the fabric, for drainage? I can imagine a large circle of fabric, coming up to ground level, all around the digging hole. Is this all that's needed? I would probably use several layers of landscape fabric, as I do under my brick lined beds.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 4:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

paula in pa,
Glad to help. Regarding keeping grasses under control, here are a few tips.

1. Minimal Constraint with Landscape Fabric
Create a large island bed in the yard by putting down a
sheet of heavy landscape fabric; trim and use landscape
edging around the outside; and cover the fabric with
mulch. Cut a hole through the landscape fabric and use
a post hole digger to prepare a planting hole for your
miscanthus. When planted in this manner, most small to
medium miscanthus stay relatively confined. All new
growth shoots that come up under the fabric are shaded
and smothered, leaving only a tight clump of grass. I
have used this method for all my grasses except for
Miscanthus Floridulus that is so aggressive that it's
new shoots puncture through landscape fabric like a
knife through tissue paper. Don't be concerned too much
about the centers dying in clumps that can't spread. I
have one clump of variegated miscanthus that has stayed
in a 24" cutout since 1996.

2. Soil Barriers
Grasses whose roots will wander under a few feet of
landscape fabric to pop up in the yard, will also
tunnel under most landscape edging to come up on the
other side. You can take a black plastic trash can;
cut off the bottom; and bury that into a deep planting
hole with the top edge barely sticking out of the
ground. The grass planted into that cylinder will
fill the container with roots like a potted plant, but
will benefit from ground temperature, soil moisture,
and bottom drainage. The roots typically reach a limit
that plant is willing to send them down to escape.
Depending on the plant in question, shallower
containers may be used.

3. Mowing
When first appearing in Spring, wandering shoots of
arundo donax, miscanthus floridulus, or ribbon grass
can be mowed down and kept mowed thoughout the season
should you see growth in your yard. This does not work
well with tight clump grasses, which do not send their
shoots up very far from the main clump.

4. Starting Over
Get a few good small divisions to plant somewhere else
and spray the main clump with Roundup herbicide. The
Roundup is used by the Department of Natural Resources
and will breakdown over the year. You will have a dead
clump of grass that needs removed, followed by an ugly
bare spot in the yard for the year. During the
following year, just keep it mowed.

5. Root Pruning
Throughout the growing season, use a sharp-edged,
flat-edged shovel to go around the clumps of grass
and cut the roots off that are spreading away from
the clump by slicing down into the ground around the

If this does not clarify my earlier post, let me know should you like a picture. Maybe some other readers can chime in with their own opinions.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 11:35AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
nanahanna(a8 AR)

This is all great information to have...since we are starting our first "ornamental grass bed" this spring! I am a little nervous now about having big clumps of grass spreading everywhere! Will pass these tips on to hubby who will be doing the dividing and moving when the time comes....I hope! LOL.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 12:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

Had to share this one. The Floridata web site suggest dividing miscanthus floridulus with a "back hoe" or "steam shovel". Look for the Propagation section on the following web page. I will need to make room in the garden shed for the "steam shovel". LOL

Here is a link that might be useful: Floridata Information on Miscanthus Floridulus

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 5:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

After seeing more people looking to divide their ornamental grasses, I wanted to post an update. In 2007, Donn suggested the Wolverine Spade. Having acquired one, I have found that it performs better than standard garden tools. It is a tool that seems part shovel, part axe, part sledge hammer, and part pry bar. I find the weight helps when I raise it above a clump of grass and drive it straight down. On tough clumps, I may have to drive and pry 4 or 5 times to work down through the thickest, densest clumps. However, this allows working through clumps that previously had to be excavated and hacked apart. The 15" blade allows taking a proper section of crown and roots. It is very durable, where you can beat on it with a sledge hammer if desired without breaking. Also, it carries a 5 year warranty. Nice recommendation for those looking for a solution!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2009 at 12:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
    Bookmark   April 7, 2009 at 4:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As far as dividing the mound goes, I think I've read a suggetion to get a simple saw and saw it apart. I had such a hard time with a Pamapas grass two weeks ago that I would try the saw method. Anyone else tried that method? Sounds nice and easy to me as opposed to swinging an ax and what have you.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 4:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deep_roots(5a IN)

jvan, yes for those bad backs, the reciprocating saw with a 12" pruning blade will work. Did around the outside of the clump after it has been cut down to 3" above ground. After digging away the dirt on the outside of the clump, use the reciprocating saw to cut wedges out of the clump. Cheapest place to get the pruning blades are the tool shops around the country that frequently sell inferior quality made in China tools. The blades are factory defects, but typically usuable.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2009 at 7:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hello all,

New to this site, found you while searching for Miscanthus Giganteus.

If anybody has some "extra" Giant Miscanthus root I will gladly pay you for your efforts. Not looking for a lot just enough to get about 3 or 4 clumps started.

It is rather hard to find.

Thank you in advance

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 1:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I found my old post, and see it's been 3 years. I never did dig them out. I just let them go. I was determined that this year I'd just put some vegetation killer on them and be done with them. But I discovered the clumps had rotted out in the middle, to where there was just a half to 3/4 circle of grass surrounding the dead part. Last weekend I jammed my regular shovel into the dead area and voila, managed to dig apart the three mounds, without breaking my back, arms, or calling 911. They are out - and gone ---- YAY.

Final advice to anyone planting miscanthus - if you don't want huge clumps to overwhelm you, you must resort to digging and thinning them every spring, to keep them at manageable size.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 7:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've had good luck with a regular shovel (sharp) with fibeglass handle so you can lean on it some and circle the clump to free it - but leave it in place. Then used a one piece hatchet (old boy scout tool) so you can pry a little. Better result than digging it out, moving it, and then using an axe.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 11:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
willowmist(Z5 NH)

I swear by my Sawzall with a 12" demolition blade. The blades do dull fairly quickly (especially when you hit stone), so buy the cheapest ones you can find.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 4:26PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
have: variegated "peppermint stick" giant reed grass / arundo do
I have many rhizomes I can trade. This one seems to...
Beach grasses great online/cataloge companies
We need to landscape our home in a beach community...
Miscanthus blight?
A few months ago I got some Miscanthis Hinjo at Lowes...
Pink Muhly Grass Doesn't Bloom
I have 2 pink muhly grass plants. They are about 3...
type of grass?
This is such a pretty grass. Everyone asks what it...
Sponsored Products
Hillsboro Two-Line Standard Lawn Address Plaque
Home Decorators Collection
MGS | MGS Rectangular Towel Holder AC933
$303.75 | YBath
Pink Silk Beaded Shade 3x5x4.25 (Clip-On)
$49.91 | Lamps Plus
Tommy Bahama Palm Beach Towel
$39.50 | FRONTGATE
Marina Algae Lumbar Pillow
Grandin Road
Indoor Ceiling Fans: Sahara Fans Bennington 52 in. White Ceiling Fan 10023
Home Depot
Green Goddess Glass Pitcher
$44.99 | Dot & Bo
Emerald Outdoor Reims Patio Dining Set - EMER690
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™