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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!