Fall and Winter Care of Perennials

If a person were to take a look at my flowerbeds, they would immediately know that perennials are my absolute favorite.  My beds are loaded with grasses, evergreens, groundcovers and flowers.  I especially like the fact that many of them reproduce and spread which gives me the opportunity to share my bounty of perennials with others.

I like to leave my perennials standing during the winter months rather than cutting them down.  Some perennials have attractive foliage or rather, what is left of it after the cold weather has set in.  Some also have seed heads that are a source of food for birds and stems that give them a place to hide when a predator is lurking about.  For some marginally hardy plants, leaving the stems aids in their overwintering.  To help insulate the crowns of my chrysanthemums, I leave the stems standing and pack them with leaves.  Standing stems also accumulate snow which aids in successful overwintering.   If a perennial is a late riser in the spring, leaving the stems on will alert a person to not dig at that spot and harm the underground portion of it.

There are some instances where you will want to cut back a perennial as in the case of a foliage disease.  Diseased foliage should be removed to reduce the amount of re-infestation to the plant during the next growing season.  If cutting is necessary or preferred, it should be done after the plant has gone dormant.  This usually happens after a few hard frosts.  When cutting, leave about 2 to 3 inches of the plant.  Do not cut back to the soil as this can result in injury to the plant due to the fact that in some perennials, next year’s buds are right at the surface or a bit higher and not below the soil line.

Wait until late winter or spring to prune woody plants if possible.  Cutting them in the fall will leave open wounds that will not heal quickly and be an invitation for disease to enter the plant.

If you have done some late fall plantings of perennials, I would recommend that they be mulched very well to prevent frost heaving and the chance that they will not survive the winter.  I generally like to place about 2 to 3 inches of mulch around a late planting.  Fall is a good time to give your perennial beds a layer of protective mulch in general.  Prior to applying bark chips, I like to spread about an inch of compost around my perennials.

If you have lots of different cultivars of a perennial, such as daffodils, hostas or day-lilies, you might want to give some thought to making a map of where they are located in your landscape.  Labels have a way of working themselves out of the ground during the winter months or even during the growing season with plant maintenance, and get mixed up.  A map can help you keep everything straight

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.