81212thumbDilemmas are common in gardening. Should summer vegetables that are still producing be removed so that winter vegetables can get started on time? What about replacing summer annuals that are still blooming with winter annuals, and then replacing winter annuals with summer annuals half a year later? Should tender perennials be regarded as annuals, or get a second chance?

Right now, some perennials are looking tired. Many will be going dormant for winter. Many do not get much down time, and will start to develop new growth faster than old growth deteriorates. Not many make their intentions obvious. Deciding how to work with them can be confusing at times. It might take a few years and a few mistakes to get familiar with the habits and lifestyles of some.

If cut back too early, hardy zonal geraniums will not regenerate much until the weather gets warmer at the end of winter. In the interim, they are more likely to be killed by frost without the protection provided by old growth However, some varieties start to grow in winter. If not cut back soon enough, new growth mingles with old, so that they are difficult to separate when they do get cut back.

It is best to observe what hardy geraniums are up to before deciding on when to prune. If they start to develop vigorous new growth down near the ground, the old growth should probably be cut down as far as the new growth. It is likely better to take a chance that they might be damaged by frost. Those that do not start to grow right away can enjoy the insulation of old foliage for a while.

Thoroughly deciduous perennials, like deciduous daylilies, dahlias and some ferns, can be groomed of their deteriorated old growth without risk that they will start to regenerate new growth prematurely. However, cutting back some specie of salvia might actually stimulate development of exposed and frost sensitive new growth. Perennials that get damaged by frost later In winter should not be groomed of damaged growth right away. The damaged material provides a bit of insulation for lower growth, particularly if new growth was stimulated by the damage.

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2 thoughts on “Get Perennials Ready For Winter

  1. I leave the old growth and dried up stalks of all of my flower bed plants until spring cleanup. Mostly, I don’t see the point of cutting things back. It’s easier done in the spring and it keeps weed seeds from invading the beds as much (at least it seems to). I was a little aghast on my last trip to Nebraska, to note that many people cut everything to the ground just before snow flies. I haven’t ever researched this much, but what you explain surely makes sense.

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    1. Space is too limited in my gardening column to adequately discuss all the possibilities. I prefer to clean up as much debris as possible because we do not get snow to obscure it, and because most of the landscapes that I work in are not mine – and are in public spaces. For some specie, it is best to remove debris that diseases overwinter in. For others there are obvious advantages for leaving as much debris as possible. Then there are the birds who appreciate some of the seeds in the old flower stalks. Those are a few more of the dilemmas.

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