DECEMBER 2011- ASK THE EXPERTS
Q: What can I do to prepare my garden for the winter months?
The fall is upon us and the snowy weather will be arriving soon. Now is the time to prepare your garden for the winter months. Good winter maintenance is important for the overall health of the garden throughout the year.
The first task is to cut back perennials and remove dead leaves that have fallen. Cut back most perennials to 3 to 4 inches above the ground and be careful not to damage the crown of the plant. The removal of leaves is important to stop the spread of any plant diseases or infestations that may have entered your garden during the growing months. We like to wait until spring to cut back some perennials, such as grasses, coneflower and black-eyed susans because they provide winter interest in the garden as well as seed for wildlife and birds.
Every few years you will need to divide some perennials and grasses in your garden to keep them looking attractive. Not only is this healthy for the plant, it is an easy way to propagate your plants so you will have more next season. The best technique is to dig up the entire plant and divide it into sections with a sharp, clean spade. Start by dividing the plant into two equal sections and if it is especially large, divide again to create four or more pieces. Grasses and perennials with particularly fibrous roots can be especially hard to divide so an easy trick is to cut the clump into pieces with a hand saw rather than struggling with a spade. Once you have divided the plants, find new locations in the garden where they can thrive or pass them along to friends and neighbors.
Lastly, be sure to give your garden a final deep watering before the ground freezes. Your plants will appreciate the added moisture to sustain them throughout the dormant period.
Q. I was not “wowed” by my fall garden, what changes can I make to improve for next year?
Fall is a great time to think about and plan design changes for your garden. Start by taking a look at your overall garden to determine what worked and what could use some improvement for next season. As you prepare for the winter, take stock of the plants that added interest to the garden and consider eliminating those that were not so great. This will make room for better suited options.
It is important to consider all seasons when selecting plants to ensure an interesting landscape throughout the year. Many plants that are selected for spring and summer interest are looking pretty tired by the time fall comes around, but there are many plants that shine in the fall and can be great additions to your garden. The fall garden should be abundant with beautiful displays of oranges, reds, yellows and golds. Also consider using plants that have seed heads, spent flowers and berries to add interest to the garden throughout the long winter.
Ornamental grasses are superstars of the fall garden providing height, color and winter interest. Many shrubs including oak leaf hydrangea, fothergilla and witchazel have beautiful fall foliage color in addition to flowering earlier in the year. Perennials such as sedums and asters bloom long into the fall season providing color in the waning weeks of fall.
It is extremely important to have an overall plan for your garden before implementing too many design changes. A great way to get ideas is to take notice of plants that look well in gardens in your area. While walking your dog or running errands, see what looks great in local gardens and think about where you might fit that plant into your own garden. Magazines, books and websites also provide great ideas for new plantings. Lastly, if you know your garden needs work but you just don’t know what to do, consider consulting a garden designer. A good designer will listen to your ideas and prepare a plan that meets your style and maintenance requirements.