Leaves cascade in a whirlwind of dazzling color as days shorten and temps fall. There is still time to enjoy the season and easily put your landscape to bed for winter. Here are some low key maintenance tips for popular plants.
Trees & Shrubs
Fallen leaves provide nutrients to the soil and back into the roots of the plants. You can use your mower or a shredder to chop the leaves. Leaf mulch can insulate roses, be added to a compost pile, used as garden mulch in landscape beds, incorporated into edible garden beds, or spread thinly on the lawn to decompose over the winter. Diseased leaves should be raked and bagged, not composted or reused.
After the leaves fall, trees and shrubs go dormant, and it is easy to see the architecture of the plants. Remove crossing, dead, and diseased tree and shrub branches when you spot them. Remove water sprouts, suckers or shoots that form at the base of the tree in late winter during dormancy. As a rule, it’s best to prune flowering trees and shrubs right after they bloom in late spring versus pruning in fall when flower buds have already formed.
We like to leave the flowers on Hydrangeas through winter to add texture to the barren landscape. If you like to prune in fall, here’s a quick guide on which ones are okay to prune in fall and which ones you should wait to prune in spring.
• Annabelle, Incrediball or any arborescens varieties can be pruned in late fall or early spring to 6”-12″. You can also choose to only remove the spent flowers in spring. Old canes will help support new growth.
• Limelight, Quickfire, or any paniculata varieties can be pruned in early spring to control size or remove spent flowers.
• Tuff Stuff, Tiny Tuff Stuff, or any of the serrata varieties should only be pruned in spring and only after new growth appears to remove shoot ends that may have died back. These varieties bloom on old wood, meaning flower buds are set on last year’s growth. You don’t want to remove the flower buds for next year.
• Oakleaf or quercifolia varieties bloom on old wood as well. Prune dead stems after you see new growth in spring or remove older stems that are not as vigorous. If pruning to control size, trim as soon as it finishes flowering to avoid removing next year’s flower buds.
• Endless Summer, BloomStruck or any macrophylla varieties should only be pruned in spring and only after you start to see new growth to remove shoot ends that have died back. At this point, you will just remove any dead stems. These varieties bloom on old and new wood so if you prune them in fall, you could be removing some of the following year’s blooms.
It is best to wait until late winter or early spring to cut back most perennials. Exceptions include plants prone to powdery mildew such as Herbaceous Peony, Monarda, Tall Phlox, and plants that aggressively reseed, such as Sweet Autumn Clematis. Do not compost diseased plants. Hosta and Daylilies can also be pruned in fall.
Butterfly Bush, Asters, Foxglove, and Mums benefit from foliage left over the winter to insulate the crown of the plants. Also leave up Buddliea, Perovskia, Roses, and Ornamental Perennial Grasses over winter. Some plants such as Russian Sage, Caryopteris, and Fallopia will die if cut back in fall.
Unpruned perennial plants provide cover and food for birds. They add attractive color, texture and movement, enhancing the winter landscape. Graceful plumes of ornamental grasses, rich oranges, reds, and browns of rose hips, and the warm glow of dried hydrangea blossoms shimmer in freshly fallen snow.