By -Georgia Lund-
After a long summer of bloom production, perennials are ready for a winter nap. Getting them ready for bed is just a matter of cleaning them up and covering them up. Even though the plants go dormant during the cooling temperatures of fall, there is still a lot of activity going on underneath the soil in the perennial’s roots. A little fall preparation will keep your perennials active and healthy for many blooming seasons to come.
After the first killing frost in late fall, cut back all the dry, dead plant stems to ground level. Some perennials form new rosettes at ground level from which spring plants will grow. Don’t cut back the new rosettes and be careful not to cover them up with mulch.
Remove and discard all the cuttings so pest eggs or disease which may be in the stems will not overwinter and spread in the garden.
Leave dry seed pods on the stems for a decorative element in the winter garden. The seeds pods will also provide food for migrating birds.
Use a rake and clean up all old mulch and other soil debris and remove it from the garden. Pests, disease, and rodents like to make their winter home in decaying vegetation and will still be in the garden when spring arrives, ready to destroy newly emerging vegetation.
After cleaning up, the perennials need to be covered up. Wait until the soil freezes, then apply a 6-inch layer of fresh mulch. This cover-up layer keeps the soil a steady temperature throughout the winter, so underground plant bulbs and roots don’t freeze.
Small limbs pruned from evergreen trees will make excellent winter mulch for spring bulbs, and late fall is the right time for pruning evergreen trees and shrubs. Fallen leaves and hay are in abundance when it’s time to cover up perennials for winter and make excellent organic mulch.
Fertilizer encourages plant growth, and that’s not what you want for perennials in the fall. As a general rule, don’t feed perennials after Labor Day. For growing zones that have a shortfall season and early winter arrival, stop feeding perennials by July fourth.
New plant growth is tender, and a frost will kill new growth, and that could lead to the demise of the entire plant.
Continue to water perennials until the ground freezes so the plants won’t die of dehydration.
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