Putting Your Gardens to Bed for the Winter
By Kerry Ann Mendez
There is something very cathartic about putting the gardens to bed for the winter. Seeing the landscape tidied up, containers cleaned and packed away, and newly planted spring blooming bulbs nestled safely underground, protected from gnawing critters by a layer of crushed gravel can be very satisfying.
A proper "good night" to your flower gardens before the onset of winter will pay huge dividends. Below are some practical steps for enjoying a healthier, flower-packed garden next year.
In late October I cut back many perennials to within inches of the ground. This includes Peony, Iris, summer blooming Phlox, Hosta, Daylilies, Shasta Daisies, and Catmint. I am careful to avoid pruning plants that provide yummy seeds for hungry birds. These include Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, Sea Holly, Globe Thistle, Tickseed and Liatris.
Some perennials and "subshrubs" (semi-woody perennials) benefit from spring pruning versus fall. These include: Russian Sage, Lavender, Montauk Daisy, Hibiscus and Butterfly Bush. Others that are also best cut back in spring include: Wandflower (Gaura), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) and Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris). Please also leave any natives untouched until spring - they can provide safe harbor in winter for pollinators' eggs, pupae or caterpillars.
Ornamental grasses provide outstanding winter interest. Prune these to within inches of the ground in late winter or early spring.
If you have not done a soil pH test in recent years, do this now. If a pH correction is needed, the necessary amendments can be added to the soil this fall, creating better growing conditions for plants next spring.
I know weeding is a detested activity for many BUT weeding the gardens one more time before the "snow flies" will pay big dividends in spring.
Don't stop watering! Even though the plants are going dormant, their roots are still growing (soil temperature stays warmer than air temperature). Water gardens deeply (one inch of water) once a week if there has been no drenching rain. Continue into mid-November.
Take advantage of terrific fall plant sales! As noted above, soil temperature remains warmer than dropping air temperature, plus we usually have more rain in fall. This weather will provide ideal conditions for reducing transplant shock and promoting root development before the ground freezes.