The weather this past week has been nothing short of spectacular. Temperatures 5C above normal, sunny and very little wind. Perfect for spending time outdoors doing some garden cleanup and finishing those last minute chores. We even picked the last of our carrots and beets from the vegetable garden today.
To cut back your garden perennials in spring or fall is an age old debate. It can be nice to leave some perennials standing throughout the fall and winter months. Seed heads from echinacea and rudbeckia provide food for birds, stronger perennials like grasses, sedum and astilbe look great topped with a frosting of snow during the winter. Some plants like the protection of winter cover like heuchera. On the other side of the debate is personal preference and time.
My preference is to cleanup most of the perennials in the more formal gardens in the fall. I leave seed heads in the back bush for the birds but cut down the rest. I pull up dead daylily scapes and remove big bunches of dead foliage. I cut back any perennials that would like a fresh start in spring like cranesbill geraniums and salvia. Most of the removed foliage goes in the compost pile. The only exceptions are diseased and mildewed foliage (most of my peonies) and seed heads. I scatter seeds from favourite perennials wherever I want more to appear in the back bush, diseased foliage goes in a scrub pile.
Doing my garden cleanup in the fall keeps the gardens looking neat throughout the winter but more importantly gives me a leg up in spring. My spring chores always seem to get the better of me and poor weather conditions can really put me behind. It takes a full two weeks to manually edge and weed all my garden beds, another week to prune back roses & shrubs and cleanup any perennials I left standing. Add to that the chore of getting the vegetable garden ready and tending young seedlings. Next thing you know it’s early summer and I have not had much of a chance to attack my never ending to do list of changes I would like to make.
With such a terrific fall this year I am pleased to say I am quite a bit ahead of the game. That is good as my spring wish list for the last three years has been to establish groundcover throughout all the gardens. Perhaps next year I’ll get to that project early and make a bigger dent in my goal.