It’s Time to Cover Up Perennials
Once frosts begin to cover your perennial gardens, you should consider putting your garden to bed for the winter in a way that keeps your plants in good condition for next spring. The sudden shifts in temperatures that we are used to in New England are dangerous for plants. If the winter slowly gets cold and stays cold plants will adjust, but if it’s warm early in the season and then suddenly the temperature drops into single digits, you are more likely to lose plants due to winter kill. Warm-weather coverings like mulch won’t help very much in these circumstances, which is why a different cover is needed.Marginally hardy perennials are best protected in December. Salt-marsh hay is our recommendation for a cover. In fact, salt march hay is a bit of a New England secret, as most comes from the salt marshes of the East Coast, and it is seldom seen or heard about west of the Appalachians. The grass is harvested in early July through the fall until the salt marshes freeze solid. Its advantages in your garden? It resists rotting, it doesn’t pack down and smother plants, and it’s not weedy because seeds never sprout. Salt marsh hay requires the saltwater tidal changes to germinate and grow, and your garden isn’t a salt marsh.
Here are some other general guidelines for putting your perennial garden to bed for the winter.
Cutting Back: The general rule is to leave any plant that has green, good looking foliage and cut back those that have turned yellow or brown. You shouldn’t cut down woody plants such as lavender, roses, and Russian Sage, or early spring bloomers such as creeping phlox, candytuft, euphorbias, or soapwort.
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Leaves: Although chopped leaves are great mulch and soil amendment for perennial gardens, whole leaves that fall into the garden should be removed as they will not break down by next spring and will need to be removed then.
Ornamental Grasses: Most tall grasses are left in the garden because they supply winter interest in otherwise bare beds. I usually cut them down once the snow has beaten them down. This is if I can get to them. If not, doing it in the spring is completely fine.
Soil Amendment: Late fall is a great time to spread compost or composted manure over the surface of a perennial bed. All you need is about an inch of compost or manure.
Transplanting: Be sure to water your transplants well, and apply a layer of dark compost on the top of the soil to absorb the heat of the sun. When the soil is kept warmer the roots will grow and reestablish more quickly.
These end of season items can be done anytime going forward. The weather has been great so far this November and the outlook for the coming days seem perfect for these tasks.
Best of luck and thanks for another great gardening season.
Email Mark Saidnawey at firstname.lastname@example.org.