ALL THOSE LEAVES… Soon all of the leaves will be down, and we’ll be able to do that final leaf cleanup before the snow. Do remove the leaves from lawn areas, ground cover, and from the foliage of evergreen trees and shrubs. Also, avoid having more than a single layer of leaves in areas where you have tender perennials or spring flowering bulbs. Most bulbs have trouble pushing up through more than a single layer of leaves. The insulation from pine branches could help some perennials preferring more southern climes.
SPRING FLOWERING BULBS…It’s not too late to plant your spring flowering bulbs. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, you’re good to go. DO NOT plant with Bone Meal as many bulb companies still suggest. Unfortunately, this draws the unwanted attention of animals quick to unearth and munch on your brand new collection. Some people do plant with a few moth balls claiming that this helps repel the unwanted visitors. If you have had success with moth balls or moth flakes, please share your observations so they can be included next time.
TURKISH TULIPS…Some also refer to these as wild or botanical tulips. The specimens recently written up in the Wall Street Journal include T. humilis ‘Alba Coerulea, T.clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, T. whittallii, T. sylvestris, and T. acuminate. In general, they are not as tall or as showy as the Darwin Tulips from the Netherlands, but supposedly, they will perennialize well and even multiply in our climate. Unfortunately, with the Darwin Tulips, the foliage goes dormant so soon after flowering that insufficient energy flows back to the bulb for the next year. If anyone has any experience with these bulbs, please let me know. I look forward to experimenting with a few next year.
PUTTING YOUR GARDEN TO BED FOR THE WINTER… A few easy chores now will reduce your workload in the spring, and enhance your garden for the winter months ahead.
TROPICAL BULBS…Do you have Canna Lily or Elephant Ears in your garden? You can rescue them now for planting next year, and they should double in quantity as well. Some clients and the kind folks at The Perennial Farm have contributed to this section.
CANNA LILY…Cut foliage to about 3” above soil. Cut foliage can go to the compost heap. Dig up the rhizomes, and once the dirt has dried, brush them off. The goal is to keep them cold, but not frozen, and avoid rot from too much moisture. First choice is a wood box or paper bag. Second choice is a plastic tub, but use newspaper instead of the plastic lid. Layer with leaves, peat, sawdust, or even shreadded paper. Spread out bulbs so there is at least a little space between each bulb. Top with the layering material. Store in a cool, dark place. A garage usually works well.
COLOCASIA ESCULATA / ELEPHANT EARS…Follow the same procedure as above. One client never bothers with the layering, and they still survive and multiply well.
PERENNIALS…Look for perennials that have gone dormant, and cut these back to about 3” in ht. Look for perennials with nice basal foliage, but the upper portions of the plant are unsightly. Cut these back to the height of the basal foliage. Some perennials you may want to leave in their dormant state so that the birds can enjoy their seeds, or you simply like the way they look against the snow. Rudbeckia sp. / Black-eyed Susan is a prime example. The black seed head is quite attractive in contrast to the white of snow. Some perennials should definitely be left alone until spring due to growth that seems to take place during the winter – Buddleia sp. / Butterfly Bush and Perovskia / Russian Sage are in this category. There are a few that will benefit from the insulation that their dormant foliage will provide. Ferns, Heuchera and Geranium are among the perennials in this category.
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES…As a rule, I like to keep all my ornamental grasses throughout the winter. I love them in their dormant state as they sway with the wind. If they have flopped and are lying prostrate on the ground, then I may go ahead and chop them off. Otherwise, they stay.
TREES and SHRUBS…Take a mental note of plants with long extending branches that could break under the weight of a wet snow. Some can be pruned a bit now, which should help. Do keep an eye on them. If we get a wet snow, you may need to brush the snow off at your earliest opportunity.
Narrow, columnar type plants such as Buxus semp. ‘Dee Runk’ and Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ will benefit from being tied spiral fashion with twine. This will help guard against spreading.
Those of you with Hydrangea macrophylla / Bigleaf Hydrangea may have found that very few flowered if at all. In our area, these plants can die back to the ground when we have an early spring freeze. When this happens, all of the lush growth is brand new (first year wood). Many of the Hydrangea mac. bloom on second year wood. Hopefully, the next year you will enjoy lush flowers once again.
Newly planted Prunus laurocerasus / Cherry Laurel is very susceptible to leaf burn in Jan/Feb/Mar. Wrapping the sides in burlap usually does the trick. After the first winter, this is no longer necessary. Even this past year when mature specimens suffered greatly from leaf burn, new leaves pushed through forcing the damaged leaves to drop. Looking at the plants now, you’d never know they had problems in the spring.
WHEN TO STOP WATERING… If you installed any new plants in the fall, do try to water at least 2x/wk for as long as you can. If you can continue through mid-December, that would be great. Unfortunately, most of us need to shut down our hose bibs for the winter so that the pipes don’t freeze and burst. Whenever the hose bibs are closed, that will be when your watering stops. Taking care of your pipes is more important than your plants.