Growing Concerns 544: How to winterize perennials, lilyturf

Late Fall!

Garden flowers can be visually attractive right through winter


Dear Janet,

For the most part my garden is made up of Phloxes, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, Russian sage and hydrangeas. What do I do to "winterize" these flowers? Do I trim them all down? Leave them alone?


Dear P.S.

You can leave the perennials standing for winter interest, then cut the remains down in early spring, since new growth will come from the roots, not the stems. You can enjoy the deep red brown of black-eyed Susan and near black of purple coneflower plus the birds that come to their seedheads.

Or you can cut them now. It's not too late. December is a gardening month for me, since my own yard waits until I've put client's beds to bed. It's wonderful to be out there. I choose forty degree days without wind, wait until 10 a.m. and start in four layers -- long johns, heavy shirt, hooded sweatshirt and jacket. By noon I've peeled off one or two of those layers. It's a good way to extend your own interest in the garden, dispel winter blues and burn off holiday dining calories!

As for the shrubs: You can cut Russian sage anytime, but leave the hydrangeas if they are oakleaf, blue or pink forms. Those must keep this year's wood to make next year's flowers. If they're white snowball or panicle hydrangeas, which bloom on new wood each year, you can cut away now or in early spring as needed to shape them or reduce their size.


Dear Janet,

I have planted 200 lilyturf plants from the curb inward toward my home several feet. The city does salt the street. I planned to cover the lilyturf with an abundance of shredded leaves. Now I worry, do I completely cover the plants -- will that smother them? Must I wait until after a hard frost to cover them with the shredded leaves? Help. I am standing at the curb with a shredder, a pile of leaves and gusto.


Dear R.,

You can mulch them now, and you can cover them if it's with something light and airy like leaves. It happens in the woods every year.

Or you can wait until the ground is frozen. Brrr.

To protect plants from salt, simply get the mulch in place before salting begins. Then peel it off it next spring, removing salt residue with it. Do it before spring rains begin, as they would negate your efforts by washing salt into the soil.


Dear Janet,

I am responding to the question from A.H., 83 years old and looking for help in the garden. I would be happy to help out!

I should also mention that I am 66 years old, bad knees etc. But reading that note in your column made me think of myself in 20 years. Plus I have a friend who's 74 and loves to garden -- a great excuse for us getting together. It's hard to know what we can do, but we'll certainly have some fun.


Dear C.F.,

Aren't you sweet! I'll put you two in touch.

And isn't it the truth, that working with gardeners older than ourselves, no matter what our age, makes us wonder about how (but not "if"!) we'll keep gardening as our abilities change.

Five years ago I began a twenty year project in my own yard, aimed to make it possible to keep enjoying it and taking care of it all myself. Here are some of the things I'm doing:

Widening paths and making them more even and firm underfoot.

Changing slopes to wheelchair grade, which is also great for wheelbarrows.

Replacing high-maintenance perennials with short groundcovers and shrubs that require little or no pruning.

Consolidating perennials in raised beds, in places most visible from the house.

Creating more seats and places to perch.


Green thumbs up

to making notes now while the growing season is still fairly fresh in your mind, about what colors, heights, forms and textures your garden needs. Don't wait and let catalog pictures do your thinking for you!


Green thumbs down

to the educational institute which denied tuition aid to its horticulturist because landscape-related classes are in the same field for which that person already has a degree. How can a school miss the fact that education is lifelong, or that horticulture is an evolving  science?


Originally published 12/6/03