Putting the Perennial Garden to Bed

Putting the Perennial Garden to Bed

Part of Ep. 505 Putting the Garden to Bed

Join Dane County Master Gardener Ann Munson as she reviews some fall tasks that will benefit your garden and help it to survive a Wisconsin winter.

Premiere date: Sep 30, 1997

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Luckily, a perennial garden is relatively easy to put to bed for the winter. But there are some fall tasks that will benefit your garden and help it to survive a Wisconsin winter. We join Dane County Master Gardener, Ann Munson.

Ann, thanks for letting us invade your garden.

Ann Munson:
Sure.

Shelley:
What are you up to?

Ann:
Well, I'm pruning off these Asters. In the fall, they tend to be a floppy plant that gets covered up by the snow anyway. So, when you want to do a little clean up in the fall, this is a good one to remove.

Shelley:
And you cut right back down to the ground?

Ann:
Cut it right down to the soil.

Shelley:
Now, cleaning up and cutting back seems to be almost a personal choice. I'm a lazy gardener. I never cut anything back. And yet, I've seen other gardeners who cut everything down. Are there some tips to let us know which plants we really should be getting out of the garden?

Ann:
Sure. There are some plants, like the Phlox, that are disease prone. And they get a disease called Powdery Mildew. You can see it here on the leaf.

Shelley:
Those white powdery spots?

Ann:
Right. And this is a plant that you want to cut right down to the soil line in the fall. Get it out of the garden completely.

Shelley:
Will this spread if you don't cut it?

Ann:
You could have the disease return the following year. It's a disease that depends on weather conditions, but the Phlox are prone to it.

Shelley:
Okay. So, anything that has a disease problem, get it out of here. So, things that flop, like the Asters, that are ugly-- What about things that spread by seed? I've got Blackberry Lily-- beautiful seed heads, but they're very aggressive. Would you recommend that?

Ann:
Definitely. Get those out, too.

Shelley:
Okay. What things do you keep, then?

Ann:
I like to keep plants that have an aesthetic appeal in the winter, that hold the snow, like these Purple Coneflowers. They capture the snow and they remind you of your garden in the middle of winter. Also, the birds like them. They'll come and eat the seeds that remain on the seed heads.

Shelley:
So, we're providing winter bird food and something interesting to look at out the window.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
Another plant that comes to mind are the ornamental grasses. They tend to stand up great in the snow. What else would you suggest?

Ann:
Well, Rebekias are nice, Sedums look great.

Shelley:
They have nice color even.

Ann:
Right. Joe-Pye-Weed is another one that's got a big seed head that catches the snow.

Shelley:
It's a real tall, stately looking plant.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
So, things that will stand up, have color, texture, and maybe even bird seed.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
Well, let's talk about winter protection, too. What about mulch?

Ann:
This is another plant that I like to prune back in the fall. It's marginally hardy here in Wisconsin. It's a Chrysanthemum. And it's like a Shasta Daisy or a shallow-rooted plant, that need a little extra winter protection.

Shelley:
So, we're pruning them back to put mulch over them, rather than just for aesthetic reasons.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
Okay. When do we do that? Is that something we should be doing before the ground freezes?

Ann:
Actually, it's best to wait until the ground freezes, and then you put your winter protection and your mulches on.

Shelley:
So, we're not mulching to try to keep the plants warm, then.

Ann:
Right. You want to keep the soil cold. You want to keep the soil evenly cold. Sometimes in the winter, you get fluctuating temperatures. If you get a January thaw, then the roots might heave as the soil heaves up from the fluctuating temperatures. So, the mulch keeps the soil evenly protected and cold.

Shelley:
Okay. So, we keep that on all winter and the idea is to kind of keep everything stable, right there. Are there good and bad choices of mulch that we should consider using?

Ann:
What I like are the cheap ones, the ones that are available in your own yard. Like pine needles-- I have pine trees, so I use those for mulch. They're nice and airy and hold lots of air in them. I also use chopped up leaves. I take a lawn mower and chop them up fine. Those would make great mulches.

Shelley:
They're readily available.

Ann:
You can use pine boughs or spruce boughs. Of course, most people don't like to cut their trees. So, if you wait until after Christmas, there's lots of trees available.

Shelley:
Oh, sure. Then, we can all do it. And you've got one that I usually buy, the Marsh Hay.

Ann:
Right. Marsh Hay makes a great mulch. It's very airy, too.

Shelley:
Okay, it looks like the criteria for a good mulch, then, is something that won't smash flat and smother.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
So, don't use whole leaves. Use chopped leaves. Okay, and what about the application, then? You said you cut this back to about six inches.

Ann:
Right. Cut it back to six inches. That way, the stalk will hold the mulch around the plant.

Shelley:
They'll act like little stakes sticking through there.

Ann:
Right. Then, you just put the mulch around the plant.

Shelley:
All the way over once it's...

Ann:
About three inches, right. The flowers will be gone and you just put the mulch up around the plants.

Shelley:
Okay. And this stays there until approximately when?

Ann:
Well, about mid-April. It depends on the spring. But, once the temperatures have evened out.

Shelley:
So, be patient. Don't take it off too soon.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
Okay, thanks Ann.

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