As the number of warm days dwindle and frost begins to wreak havoc with our gardens, fall cleanup calls us. It’s time to take down and empty the hanging baskets, clean out and rinse out patio pots with warm soapy water and send the soil and plant material to compost. Remember to place winter sensitive ceramic pots in a warm storage area to avoid damage from winter cracking.
With in-ground gardens, there are a few options. Autumn clean up can be basically split into three categories:
- Leave everything in its place until spring – For this method, just leave everything where it stands. There are a few advantages to this way of dealing with the end of the season. This allows a natural mulching of leaves to stay on the garden which provides nutrients for the garden and additional winter protection for perennial roots. This method encourages snow to settle and stay on the garden – the more snow that accumulates on the soil, the more insulation provided to perennial roots. Also, more snow is like an insurance policy for moisture in the spring. A rough estimate of a snow to water ratio is about 10 cm of snow equalling 1 cm of water. One other advantage is that in the autumn, it is less work.
- Cut all foliage and plants down – (minus trees and shrubs J) – In this technique, all perennials are cut down to about 6 inches from the ground and all annuals are removed. This allows for a fresh start in the spring and a good portion of cleaning up is done, so in the spring there is less to do when it’s time to get started. This method, however, does not provide the advantages of nutrient enrichment and winter protection to the extent of the above method, but the short mounds of stalks left when the perennials were cut down does hold a little snow.
- A Blend of the Above Two Methods – This technique would be a middle ground between the two methods described above. In this method, pick the perennials that are of the best winter interest and let them stay. Perennials that provide great winter interest are classically taller perennials like grasses, Dictamnus (Gas Plant), tall fall blooming Sedums, Solidago, and Peonies. Be strategic in leaving them in your garden to capture the most snow possible, even if it means leaving an atypical perennial uncut. This way you will be able to sculpt a beautiful winterscape, maximize winter protection, take full advantage of spring moisture, and level out the amount of work required in the autumn and the spring. It’s nice to have a pretty winter garden to enjoy during our coldest time of year.
Armed with the above options, enjoy the exquisiteness of this beautiful season as nature winds down for its winter sleep.