Good Night, Perennials

Fall Gardening| Landscaping| Perennials

As winter quickly approaches, you have watched many of your perennials lose their leaves or transition from beautiful green to shades of yellow, brown, and even to shades of black (no shades of gray here, thankfully).  Your beautiful perennial garden has lost its luster and might even be–dare I say–ugly. Or maybe you have some perennials that will stay green all winter, and you might want to consider incorporating some green into your perennial garden so that it will keep some color through the winter. No worries. You can simply put those perennials to bed.

Good Night, Sleep Tight

While all perennials go dormant in the winter, many of them will lose all their leaves and turn brown or black.  Most of those plants you will want to cut back. Some perennials common to our area that you should cut back include:

  • Bearded Iris
  • Bee Balm
  • Blanket Flower
  • Crocosmia
  • Daisies
  • Daylily
  • Ground Clematis
  • Hardy Begonia
  • Helianthus
  • Mountain Bluet
  • Peony
  • Phlox
  • Salvia
  • Sunflowers
  • Yarrow

As a general rule, cut your perennials back leaving about two inches of the base of the stems.  You can cut them back closer to the ground if you like, but leaving a couple of inches allows you to know where they are come spring.  When it is time for spring planting, if new growth hasn’t begun and you aren’t sure where your perennials are, you could accidentally dig them up or damage them (and you don’t want that!).  The stems that you leave will just look like little sticks in the ground.

Evergreen Perennials

There are a few perennials that are evergreen and will offer color in your garden or containers through the winter.  Don’t cut these perennials back, but do trim any foliage toward the base of the plant that may have declined as the temps dropped.  Perennials that should keep color through the winter include:

  • Germander
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Heuchera (Coral Bells)
  • Autumn Fern
  • Tassel Fern
  • Hellebores
  • Pachysandra
  • Ajuga

Russian Sage is not evergreen, but you may want to consider not cutting it back.  The stems are a gorgeous silver color that will fit into the winter season perfectly.

Love the Birds and Bugs?

Certain varieties of perennials will produce seed pods that the birds can enjoy through the winter.  If you grow these varieties, consider not cutting them back and leaving the pods for the birds. While they may not be that pretty to look at, the bird will thank you!  The perennials that will have seed pods include:

  • Blackeyed Susans
  • Coneflowers
  • Sunflowers

Keep in mind that choosing not to cut back your perennials can also be great for the “good” bugs in your garden.  

Ornamental Grasses: To Cut or Not to Cut

Ornamental grasses will turn brown in the winter.  But whether you want to cut them back is up to you.  Many gardeners choose to leave them because they add an interesting color contrast and texture to the landscape during the drab days of winter.  With a soft snow, frost, or ice, they are stunning in the garden.  In the early spring (think March), cut the grasses back close to the ground. If you were to leave the brown foliage, you will end up with a mixture of dead brown grass with the new green grass.  

Amend the Soil 

Take the time this fall to amend the soil with manure, compost or soil amendment.  You perennials need this nourishment after having used up much of the nutrients over the past growing season.  This step will get your garden through the winter and ready for the spring.