Cleaning Up The Fall Garden

Brrrr…it’s chilly outside. The wind has been blowing briskly today and thankfully, most of the leaves have finally fallen. Fellow horticulturists and I have discussed how the leaves seem to be hanging on longer this year. Perhaps it’s because we had a decent summer of rainfall, even though the temperatures were at or near 100 degrees for nearly a month. Regardless of the reason, I’m delighted that the leaves have finally dropped so that I can get on with cleaning up the fall garden.

My black eyed Susan’s are mere sticks with dried seed heads, my Solomon’s Seal has withered to the ground and all that remains of my hostas are a few translucent leaves. It’s time to take my handy Felcos to the dried seed heads and my fingers to the remains of the Solomon’s Seal and hostas. My evergreen perennials like Ajuga, Christmas fern and Heucheras will be fine with little or no maintenance until spring. Thank goodness.

cleaning up the fall garden

This Heuchera will not require any maintenance until spring when they’ll appreciate a nice haircut

Many gardeners fret over their perennials in the fall. Do I cut them back half way, all the way or not at all? Thankfully, Mother Nature has managed to go about her business for thousands of years without our doting over her. If you don’t cut back your perennials, what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll look untidy and unkempt but that’s really the only concern. If you cut back a perennial that is dormant in the winter before all of the leaves turn brown and wither away, you can pretty much rest assured that it will be fine as it wouldn’t have any leaves for photosynthesis during the winter anyway.

There are a few perennials that appreciate a bit more thought being put into their care. Here’s a partial list:

  1. Ornamental grasses – these are best left untouched until February or early March here in Virginia. They’ll offer cover for birds and the snow looks magnificent against the seedheads.
  2. Hibiscus – of course, I’m talking about the perennial types like the ‘Disco Belle’ series, ‘Kopper King’ and all of the wonderful hybrids. The bare stalks, while not particularly attractive, are best left intact until the following spring.
  3. Balloon flowers – The brown, dried foliage of Platycodon is highly susceptible to Botrytis, a deadly fungus. You can eliminate the worry completely by taking a few moments to swipe your hand across the dormant plants to remove the plants’ remains.

Other tasks to complete in cleaning up the fall garden include removing piled up leaves, putting away terra cotta pots that may crack in the winter weather and assessing areas that may need improvement at a later date. Perhaps that includes filling in with new perennials, adding a blooming shrub in the the spring or tucking in a few bulbs or annuals.

I love gardening but I am also thankful to live in Virginia where we have four seasons (usually). I look forward to the respite that winter offers but I also look forward to the anticipation of spring. Seed catalogs have already started filling my mailbox and it’s exciting to think of what next spring may bring. Have you already cleaned up your garden for the fall or do you still have chores to complete? Drop me a line in the comment section below.  If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

November 24, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Fall is for Planting


The Central Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association has been promoting a program this fall called “Fall is for Planting”. Even though it may be more exciting to plant perennials, shrubs and trees in the spring when everything is starting to flush out of its winter dormancy, it is much more beneficial to the plants to plant in the fall. Let’s discuss some of the reasons that this is true:

1. The soil temperatures are still warm, even at this time of the year in Zone 7. I imagine the further north you go, the soil temperatures are getting cooler but most should still be conducive to root growth. In areas like Zone 7 where the soil will only freeze in the top few inches, the roots will continue to grow throughout the winter. Just imagine all of those little roots growing and getting ready for the spring…

2. In the spring when the plants break dormancy, all of those little roots will be ready to take up water and nutrients which will give them a leg up over their spring planted companions. This translates into more established plants when the inevitable summer drought hits.

3. When we get into the period where the rain stops falling (usually July in central Virginia), the plants that were installed in the fall have sent out lots of roots and they’re not only growing out but they’re also growing down. What’s further down in the soil? You guessed it…moisture that isn’t readily available to plants whose roots haven’t reached that depth.

4. The last and perhaps the most important reason to plant in the fall is that it usually rains in the fall. That means less work for you and more even watering for the plants. I’m sure that we are all aware that not even the most technologically advanced irrigation system can water like God does…he’s the master for a reason you know.

There are a few plants that shouldn’t be planted in the late fall, say after the end of November in central Virginia. They are crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) and pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’). The failures of many gardeners and landscape professionals can attest to this but if you have a microclimate where the soil stays warmer than your surrounding areas, you can certainly try to push the limits. Remember: just because the label says something doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. Variations of those guidelines happen all the time and the only way you can find out if it applies to you is to try it out. If you have any plants that you’ve pushed past what the tag recommends or you have had any failures with other plants that have been planted in the fall, e-mail me at Happy planting!

November 19, 2011Permalink Leave a comment