How Do I Prepare Perennials for Winter? (archived thread)

taba(z5b MO)January 1, 2013

sue - I have a small flower garden(perennials) day lilies, gladiolas and such how do I prepare them for a cold, snowy, winter? Do I cut them back, mulch around them, this is my first garden, please help it's getting cold here already.

Amanda PA z 5/6 - Many mums are supposed to be hardy, but are not reliable. Here in Pittsburgh, the worst problems for mums are cold with no snow cover, frost heave and wet soil that freezes. Your best bet is to divide your plants that survive and see if anyone local has divisions to trade. Also minimize above problems by mulching, planting in well drained soil, etc. White and rust colored mums seem to be especially hard to winter over. I don't know why.

Andie MO/Zone 6a - A good mulch cover is essential to prevent heaving. Leaves are a good and cheap solution. I also walk the garden when we get unusually warm weather in January and February, and tap down the soil in places where I see evidence of heaving. Mums are unpredictable. I have had a bunch of failures, and then again, I have plants that thrive with little or no care. Who knows!

JP WI z4/5 - I've had tremendous success with a yellow mum call Westpointer. Two have survived with no care whatsoever (though I'm going to follow advice here from now on). Two Radiant Lynn's have done fairly well too.

JJJC zone5a ILL - I do not cut down my garden mums. I practice the "old" way, Summer blooming perennials get cut down to about 4", but Fall blooming perennials don't get their trim until spring. I do mulch the mums though and watch for heaving if snow cover is light. I guess what works for you best, stick with. Half the fun of gardening is in the trying!

Doug ONT/Z5 - put your coat on and run right out side and dig up those glad bulbs. They are not winter hardy. Clean them up and put them in a cardboard box with dry wood shavings or peat and store them in your cool part of the basement to keep dry. Fruit cellars work fine but not everyone has one.As for your day lilies nothing needs to be done, you can cut the foliage back to the ground after a freeze. Most perennials like a little blanket of warmth over them. Leaves,straw,snow(yes I said snow)to keep them from thawing out on the warm winter days and to protect them from drying winds. You can wait until spring to cut back most. Michigan is probably zone5 most will survive.

Rick - I do like to cut back all of my perennials to keep the bugs at bay, and from nesting during the winter. I cut all plants to two inches from the ground. I do not cut back any of my ground cover such as sedums, ajuga, or chicks and hens. I do however cut back bishops weed. It is wise to dig up any canna tubers as they are not winter hardy also. I just take a few clumps and keep them in my basement in a brown paper bag, and then break them up into small tubers for planting in the spring. I prefer evergreen branches to cover my perennials as they do not squash down and smother the plants.

Posted by: Barbara MA/Z5 - Because the idea is to let the perennials go dormant before the ground freezes in our area, I don't fertilize after the middle of August. Too much growth would keep the roots from settling in for their long sleep. I usually put a mulch of well composted manure over the gardens (not on the plant crowns, but around them) in late November, then scratch it in the early spring to give the plants a gentle nudge. I then use 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 in mid to late April when new growth is a few inches high.

Asle Serigstad - Very careful with fertilizer now! Avoid any Nitrogen, but a very small amount of fertilizer without Nitrogen will be stored in the basal buds, and helps the plants make it through winter. But Nitrogen now would be fatal.

mark AL/zone7b - my garden is composed of wooded islands with turfgrass weaved throughout. I just rake the leaves off the grass and into the islands, taking care not to overpile in one place, and Im done. (well, not exactly...down south we have these nasty water oaks that shed their little leaves all autumn and winter, so it seems we're never done raking...) no shredding or composting needed. the amazing thing is I never have enough leaves to suit me, so I "steal" my neighbor's leaves...

Asle - The perennials will definitely be safer with a cover of leaves. This is nature's way to protect it self. Do not rake them away till spring. I grow lots of perennials, and I know for sure that more dies out if not covered by leaves etc.

Grace PA/Zone 6 - If you have bulbs you should get the leaves off of them early, or the foliage will come up whitish, starved for sunlight.

Barbara MA/Z5 - . You've probably noticed that the maple leaves stay very wet at the bottom of the pile; they also compact into heavy mats. In my experience, more perennials are killed by being too wet over the winter than by being exposed to cold weather. I'd rake off the leaves, shred them if you can and return them to the beds as mulch and soil improvement. I do leave some leaves in a shady section of my garden where there are mostly woodland plants, but try to get them off really early (in March while the ground is often still frozen) and it is a job and a half!

Ruta - I rake the leaves, grind them up and put them back. That way they give the protection but are small enough to decompose and don't mat or clump. You can do this with a vac/blower which mulches up the leaves, or I got a great tip from another site-to put the leaves into a garbage can and use a weed whacker.

Kirk Zone9 Oregon - You are supposed to rake up the leaves of Bigleaf Maple. Those leaves will mat down and they can smother plants. They can even do that in nature. It would be best for you to rake them up.

Janet OH - I have done both over my years of gardening .. raked 'em and left 'em. Everyone above who are for clearing off dropped leaves, made their statements for the quite correct reasons. CLEAN THEM UP AND OUT. That is, if you live in a region of winter freeze. They mat down, cut off light and oxygen, promote bacteria growth. If you are unsure, just leave them be (pardon the pun) then get back to us in the spring complaining about all the hard work and problems created by raking off the leaves from your emerging spring beds, how difficult it was and how much young growth you killed.

Doug ONT/Z5 - In the cold zone3 area I would definitely not cut back the first year at least.Yes the stubble will help trap leaves an most important snow to help mulch those plants for winter. Lillies and peony can be cut back to prevent disease.

Gail NE Z4B - I think cutting back this fall would depend on a couple of factors. If you have something that is quite tall and or bushy AND you have windy conditions, I would think that it would be a good idea to reduce some of that bulk. If that is the case in your area, I think the practice of cutting back to 6"-12" would be sensible. Otherwise, I would only cut back phlox, peonies, and other plants that you might have that would be susceptible to powdery mildew or black spot or nasty stuff like that. And, yes, you would cut back to green in the spring.

AndieMO/Zone 6a - The only thing I will add is that peonies should be cut back because the foliage can harbor nasty diseases that will affect the plant next spring.

Asle - Do not cut back until spring. The stems help to catch snow, to giver better snow cover, and also catches leaves and other things for cover. But just as important, if cut back there will be open "wounds", and moisture will go down in the part of the stems left after cutting, causing the root to rot (decay).

Skip MNZ4 - Jeff Illes, professor at Iowa State University recently did a study on the cutting back of mums. They discovered that cutting back in the fall resulted in winter damage to the plant. They concluded that cutting back probably removes carbohydrates used for plant food reserves and sets up the conditions for winter plant injury. It is also felt that cutting back ornamental grasses involves the same processes and can also result in winter injury.

Janet Oh/Z6 - Over the 32 years I have grown mums (!), I have experienced that NOT cutting back in the fall, resulted in young shoots being pulled (raked) off in the spring during clean up, because mums begin to sprout in my climate (Z6) about April. Isn't it so intriguing how perens. are so productively DIFFERENT in differing climates?

Andie MO/Zone 6a - This is such a great debate! Maybe I can argue with myself. Pro cutting: No slimy residue to clean up in the spring; no diseases or bugs wintering over in the dead foliage; a neater look to the garden (O.K., so I'm anal) Con: No snow/leaf catching foliage for protection against winter's cold. A bare looking garden.

Min BC/7a - It seems to me that "to cut back" or "not to cut back" depends on a number of factors: (1) local climate (2) the plant type (3) personal preference. I personally cut back some, but leave the others alone. How do I decide? I leave alone those dead foliage and seed heads that provide points of interest - poppies, Chinese lanterns, etc. Others I have left alone because the cycle of colour change, dying and subsequent decay just appeal to me (particularly Hostas). There are others that I would definitely cut - Irises, for example, because they can leave quite a mess after the slugs have picked their way through them, as part of their late seasonal feast. I dig most of my dahlia tubers out, but those that I leave in the ground (i.e., in drier and more sheltered spots), I would definitely cut down - they are aethestically unpleasant, rotting after that first hard frost. I have many more examples, but it will suffice for now. The point is that you do not have to be on one side or the other of the argument ("to cut" or "not to cut"). It makes the whole experience of gardening much more interesting and enjoyable if one could take into consideration each individual plant, it's location and any winter interest it may provide, rather than to apply a single wholesale practice for the entire garden (even though the latter is obviously the easier alternative).

Bonnie - I stopped the routine of cutting back perennials about three years ago except for irises and perennial carnations. What I noticed in cleaning up in the spring ever since then was a significant increase in the number of ladybugs hibernating amongst the dried leaves -I assume ladybugs hibernate? - and therefore a much needed army of predators throughout the summer for those nasty aphids. So maybe not cutting back also provides winter homes for good bugs.

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