Cottage Gardening forum: How do you prepare your garden for winter?

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Name: Juli
(Zone 5b)
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daylily
Aug 18, 2011 11:09 AM CST
I am in zone 5/6. I have never done anything at all to prepare for winter. I have used medium coarse pine bark chips the last 15 years as mulch, but the last 2 years, I have not worked, so no new mulch. I always left the old flower stalks for the birds, left old foliage for extra protection.

I am now "disabled" - man I hate that term! Not in wheelchair, but it is tough for me to get the gardening done. This spring it was SO wet and rainy, I could not get it cleaned up, and did not get pre-emergent down on most of it. On the part that I did I am really noticing a big difference in the amount of weeds!

A woman comes to help when she can. She has worked for 20 years at a big, really well known perennial nursery. She knows her stuff. She tells me to start in Oct. and clean the beds off. Get it all tidied up before winter. We get nice days into December some years.... so that would give me some time. I don't have **that much** area left any more. Her thinking is that if I have perennials that can't make it through the winter without mulch or foliage - I didn't need them anyway. And, she thinks I will have less pests, less disease by cleaning off in fall.

Then, she says, I can get out there first thing in the spring, even when there is a bit of snow on the ground and get that pre-emergent down!

I have daylilies, peonies, phlox, hosta, hellebore, monarda, hardy hibiscus, coneflower, asters, salvias etc. --- your general mixed perennials.

But, I have always been a "spring cleaner".... Been doing it this way 25 years, I am "scared" to change... stuck in a rut... Rolling my eyes. The idea of getting the pre-emergent on early and on ALL the beds is really appealing to me -- and I am considering following her advice --- but will I lose peonies or other plants? Thumbs down Angry Crying Is it worth the risk?

What do you folks do that live in the north? Do you clean before winter or in the spring?

This is part of my "main" mixed bed. It is crammed full of plants. When I downsized, I didn't really plan the bed, this is just how it came out! I had a huge bed on a hill in the back of my house. I kept giving away plants over 4 years until I got down to my very favorites. Then, one day my friends came and moved them into this bed which is in the front of my house. In two years, it has really filled in nicely. This was actually taken last year. It is a JUNGLE out there this year! This bed DID get pre-emergent, and I only see weeds along the edge. There may be some in there under all the perennials but they are pretty thick!


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[Last edited by daylily - Aug 18, 2011 6:09 AM (+)]
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Name: Lee Anne Stark
Brockville, Ontario, Canada (Zone 5a)
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threegardeners
Aug 18, 2011 11:13 AM CST
I clean my gardens in the Spring.

This way all of the seed heads are there for the birds to eat during the winter.

My yard is flat too, so leaving everything in the gardens in the Fall traps leaves and snow for better winter protection.
Name: Karen
Cincinnati, Oh (Zone 6a)
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kqcrna
Aug 18, 2011 5:31 PM CST
I do as much clean-up as possible in fall. I yank the annuals, leaving just a few roots for the worms. I cut back most perennials, leaving just a couple of inches height as mulch. Those short stems also snag leaves, keeping them around as mulch. I compost as much as possible but I trash most seed heads because I have such a problem with reseeding. I collect fall leaves from my neighbors, and mulch beds with leaves, sometimes mix in a few grass clippings, too. I used to leave seed heads for birds but the reseeding flowers became ridiculous. I also dump the used potting mix from summer pots in the compost or flower beds.

When spring comes, it doesn't take as long to clean up what's left, except of course, weeding. I try to get done early because I plant out my wintersown seedlings pretty early.

Fall clean-up will be tough for me this year. I've scheduled carpal tunnel surgery for Oct 10 (I think). I'm not supposed to use my right hand much at all for 10 days. Sad I suspect some stuff will have to be delayed until spring.

Karen
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Aug 19, 2011 8:04 AM CST
In the late fall, I rake all my fallen leaves that remain (and there are many) under the row of azaleas to decompose, become mulch and block weeds come spring. Other than that, I leave most everything else as is until spring, especially the seed heads for the birds.
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Name: Juli
(Zone 5b)
Region: United States of America Charter ATP Member Cottage Gardener Daylilies Garden Photography Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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daylily
Aug 19, 2011 10:27 AM CST
So, no consensus yet.

I am really tempted to try fall cleanup. I live in a clearing in a woods. Since some of my beds never did get cleaned this spring, I can see the winters leaves still on them. *Blush* I don't need to get leaves from anyone else... Enough blow In on their own. Blinking

Karen, good luck with the surgery. CT is no fun from what I understand. Just think how well you will be able to pull weeds come spring!
Name: Karen
Cincinnati, Oh (Zone 6a)
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kqcrna
Aug 19, 2011 10:48 AM CST
Thanks, Juli. Compared to the big surgeries I have had, I don't expect the CT surgery itself to be too bad. The real bummer will be avoiding using that hand much for 2 whole weeks after. Now THAT will be hard.

Karen
Name: Lucy
Hamilton, MA (Zone 6b)
irises
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irisarian
Aug 19, 2011 5:16 PM CST
I have very slight CT & wear wrist braces at night except for really hot night. Can't go to sleep then. Good luck with the surgery!!


We get as much weeding as possible before winter, can't get them all. Pine needles over irises planted that yr. We never get all the weeds up as we are surrounded by trees. DH used to run the lawn mower over them but now uses a different type so more difficult. The leaves we can get, have a ride down a hill on a tarp to the compost pile.
Name: Cinda
Indiana Zone 5b
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gardengus
Aug 19, 2011 6:26 PM CST
I do as much cleanup in the fall as possible because spring is much more unpredictable as far as weather goes.
And I do 10 places , not enough time in the spring to get to everyone.
However I do not cut things back till I see them ready . You will notice the yellowing of leaves on much, that is the sign they are no longer taking in , and are ready. The main problem with fall clean-up is you may forget where some late emerging things are and plant over them. I suggest marking things or knowing your garden very well.

I do not have hellebores, but nothing else you listed is picky and should do fine being cut down. I would wait till the last week of September/first of October if possible. If you cut things like daylilies early they will try to reemerge. This will not kill the plant but unnecessarily uses energy.
Keep believing ,hoping,and loving
all else is just existing.
Name: Debra
Garland, TX (NE Dallas suburb) (Zone 8a)
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lovemyhouse
Aug 21, 2011 9:24 AM CST
Karen, I have CTS in both hands. Surgery on the right in 1999. Biggest problem was brushing my teeth left-handed for two weeks. Sticking tongue out Surgical techniques have improved a LOT since then, so here's hoping yours just breezes through. Smiling

Juli, I live in a warm zone, but leave most everything until late winter/early spring. My reseeding issue is from the Cedar Elm and I won't see those until spring, anyway. Because we are so comparatively warm, like Cinda said, it is better for me to not cut down most of what I have. We could be above freezing all the way into January, then suddenly drop to 25 with ice. Not good for the stuff that thought it should be greening up and growing again because I sheared it down. Blinking

From the reply variations, guess the decision is based on what you feel like doing now and what you think you can do later. Do you live in an area where the city provides mulch? Many solid waste departments here will shred trees and give the mulch away or charge a nominal rate for pickup truck loads. I have arrangements with some of the college kids working for me to help out at the house. So they will go get it and spread the mulch for me fer cheap. Do you have volunteer or boy scout troops or something close by where there is a need to earn service hours? Can you barter tutoring or something for the mulch and labor? Forgive me if you have already explored these ideas, I just like sharing what I've stumbled across that helps down here. Thumbs up Thumbs up
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Name: Karen
Cincinnati, Oh (Zone 6a)
Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cut Flowers Winter Sowing Charter ATP Member Seed Starter
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kqcrna
Aug 21, 2011 2:17 PM CST
I've had this stupid carpal tunnel for at least 15 years, maybe even 20. I sleep in a brace and it never bothered me much. Now suddenly 3 fingertips (index, long, and ring fingers) are staying kind of numb and tingly all the time. Definitely time to address it.

Juli, if you cut back your perennials in fall you might find that you have a lot less weeds. Many of those "weeds" could well be volunteers from your flowers. You might also benefit from using that preemergent in both fall (soon!) and spring. Your mature seed heads are most likely dropping seeds now, unless you deadhead constantly. And those seeds can sprout now, over winter as seedlings, and return next spring.

Your flowers look beautiful!

Karen
Name: Juli
(Zone 5b)
Region: United States of America Charter ATP Member Cottage Gardener Daylilies Garden Photography Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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daylily
Aug 21, 2011 4:01 PM CST
I usually **try** to put down another application of pre-emergent in July, but the last couple years, I haven't managed it. I never tried doing it in fall, but have heard of people doing it.

I tried getting compost and mulch from the county a few tears ago, when I had a truck. What a mess! It had kids toys, hypodermic needles Blinking shoes, all sorts of stuff in it. Since I have used the pine bark chips, it really has me spoiled. Beautiful stuff. I live out in the countryside. Mulch places charge $80 to deliver, 100 bag minimum. I can only fit 6 bags in my little hatch back. I have tried getting "inexpensive" help from the local vocational school nursery trade program, Boy Scouts, the local church ( thinking they might have members who are unemployed), etc. No one wants to do anything for less than $20 an hour. Then when they get here, all they seem to do is text on their phone.

My deer hunter, Andy, is my best bet. He is a busy guy, but can do any thing. I pay him $25 an hour, but he doesn't smoke or spend his time on the phone. He is quick and efficient. I have known him a long time. But since he is so busy with his job and family, sometimes it is a few weeks before he can get to me, unless it is an emergency repair. So, I don't have him do things like weed... But he will spread mulch. I am hoping next spring that I might be able to afford to put another layer of mulch on all the beds.
Name: Debra
Garland, TX (NE Dallas suburb) (Zone 8a)
Service dogs: Angels with paws.
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lovemyhouse
Aug 21, 2011 4:24 PM CST
Sorry you had that kind of trouble. The worst I've found is the mulch isn't always shredded well. I can see where the extra added "materials" might be offputting. Big Grin Sounds like Andy is a real help. Are his kids old enough to be taught the difference between weeds and plants? Can they be bribed with cookies or something? Smiling Maybe we should get a group of people together to make roving visits to each other's houses. Kind of like a neighborhood pot luck where everyone brings a different dish. Only here, they bring bags of mulch, pots, and labor to spread the mulches, tidy up, lay pavers, move plants, and stuff. Start regional and grow to national club status. Lovey dubby
Coffee: Mother Nature’s jumper cables.

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Name: Neal Linville
Winchester, KY (Zone 6a)
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gemini_sage
Aug 23, 2011 6:53 AM CST
I always have the best of intentions when it comes to fall cleanup, but most years it just doesn't happen. There are some things I intentionally wait for spring to do too, like pruning of Roses and Butterfly bushes and cutting back marginally hardy perennials. With plants that tend to die back somewhat in winter it's just easier to wait till spring, and with marginally hardy perennials they often seem to overwinter more reliably when I leave the old growth on till spring. So typically it all just gets done in spring. Normally that works out well, the fallen leaves make a nice mulch for the winter garden, but this past winter I had rodent issues- the leaves also created a nice warm place for them to nest and burrow....and eat Lily bulbs.

There are also perennials I like to leave the seed heads on for the gold finches and others that I leave simply because I find them attractive in the winter garden, like Siberian Irises. Since there is always a fair amount of cleanup I intentionally wait till spring to do, it's often just easier to wait for all of it. Luckily my house and yard aren't visible to neighbors or from the road, so I don't have to be as concerned about it as most folks.

Juli, pre-emergent weed control chemicals (like Preen) typically only effect seed germination, so your Peonies and other perennials should be fine regardless of the time of application. Your picture of your garden is glorious!
"...and don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous." Rumi
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
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ge1836
Aug 23, 2011 7:34 AM CST
A question about Fall cleaning before spreading compost.

Is it necessary?
[Last edited by ge1836 - Aug 23, 2011 3:11 AM (+)]
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Name: Juli
(Zone 5b)
Region: United States of America Charter ATP Member Cottage Gardener Daylilies Garden Photography Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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daylily
Aug 23, 2011 7:48 AM CST
Thanks Neal -- It doesn't look so good now, with no rain, and not being able to water - all the really hot weather, not dead heading and not weeding.... *Blush*
Name: Sheryl
Hot, hot, hot, Feenix, AZ (Zone 9b)
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sheryl
Aug 23, 2011 9:06 PM CST
I guess, much like some others, I do both fall and spring clean up. I leave the seed heads for the birds, too, but daylilies I take most of the dead foliage off of, leaves I leave (heh). I think I'm going to get some corn gluten this year and try it as a pre-emergent. I know Stormy uses it a lot, anyone else?

Leaves, leaves then more shredded wood mulch - maybe not until spring, dunno.

Juli, don't feel bad - I don't think anyone did much of anything this summer. It's just been awful.
In the end, only kindness matters.

Science is not the answer, it is the question.


Name: Lucy
Hamilton, MA (Zone 6b)
irises
Charter ATP Member Cottage Gardener Enjoys or suffers cold winters Region: United Kingdom Region: Northeast US Irises
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irisarian
Aug 24, 2011 4:30 AM CST
We don't leave tree leaves over the bearded irises as there may be rot.
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
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ge1836
Aug 24, 2011 5:16 AM CST
I am soooo aware of rot issues lately.I will plant Alliums near the new iris's and looked to find how much space to give them, I dont want matuering alliums to cover the rizomes.
Name: Janice
Cape Cod, MA, USA (Zone 7a)
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sandnsea2
Sep 10, 2011 8:52 AM CST
After cutdown/cleanup of perennial beds, let the sowing begin. Today planted columbines in the partly shaded areas.
Name: Lucy
Hamilton, MA (Zone 6b)
irises
Charter ATP Member Cottage Gardener Enjoys or suffers cold winters Region: United Kingdom Region: Northeast US Irises
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irisarian
Sep 10, 2011 11:20 AM CST
Guess what? With all the rain, we not only have to do new weeding, but redo that done before. bluejay are harvesting the beechnuts. They have trouble balancing at the end of the branch.

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