Driftwood Garden Club members gathered for a hands-on demonstration led by landscape architect Kathy Bradford. Hosted in the lovely gardens of Barb and John Tatum, we learned that putting the garden to bed is a gradual process that begins around the end of September and continues right up until the ground freezes in mid to late November. This year is totally different due to all the rain in July and the warm weather in October.
General Winterizing Tasks
- Transplant: Move perennials that are crowded based on your micro climate & plants.
- Weed the garden: One final weeding done in September or October will help eliminate hundreds of overwintering seeds that will just be waiting to sprout in spring.
- Remove debris: Clear fallen leaves and other debris from lawns and beds to decrease the potential for overwintering pests and diseases. Clean, dry leaves (not those from diseased trees or shrubs) can be shredded and used as mulch. Gather leaves and put them through a leaf shredder or simply run over them with a lawnmower with a bag attached. Shredding the leaves prevents them from packing together in layers, and allows for better air circulation and water to flow through.
- Remove diseased leaves and take to transfer station. Do not put in compost.
- Guard against deer: When there is little left to eat, deer will eat just about anything. Increase your efforts to protect your plants from deer. Methods include spreading Milorganite and planting deer-resistant plants in front of plants they like to nibble.
When to cut back perennials:
The rule of thumb is: If it’s yellow or brown, cut it down. If it’s green leave it alone.
Perennials to leave uncut for Food Source:
The first task most gardeners consider when preparing the garden for winter is cutting back perennials. While cutting everything to the ground may give the garden a tidy look, wildlife species can make use of many plants in the winter as a natural food source. Gardens with dried fruit and seed heads will provide birds with a reliable food source. Seed-eating songbirds such as finches, sparrows, chickadees, juncos, and jays will feast on the following: Coneflower, Black eye Susan, Joe Pye Weed, Pin Cushion Flower, Sedums, Coreopsis, Evening Primrose, Verbascum (Mullein) Perennial Grasses, Switch grass.
Perennials to leave uncut for Winter Visual Interest:
Beyond providing habitat, limiting fall clean-up can also provide winter interest in the garden. Dried stalks and leaves add a different dimension to the garden once the snow begins to fall. In particular, ornamental grasses add color, movement, and texture to the winter landscape. All perennials left standing for the winter should be cut to the ground 3” tall in the spring before new growth starts.
Perennials to cut:
- plants that will blacken and turn mushy, like Hosta, Phlox, Veronicas, Geraniums, Liatris, Ferns
- ones that tend to harbor disease or insects over winter: Peonies, Bearded Iris and members of the Mint family;
- those that just don’t provide attractive winter interest or food for birds
When cleaning up the garden, prioritize removing and discarding diseased top growth, but leave healthy seed heads standing.