Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
October, 2009
Regional Report

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Don't cut these lovely miscanthus back until spring.

Fall Perennial Care

By the time you are reading this you may very well have had your first frost. Even if it's still to come, though, the garden is beginning to wane, and perennial flowers are not looking so good. Except for mums and asters, of course. So, I thought I'd give some tips on exactly what to do for winter as those perennials begin to die back.

First, let me say that in most cases, the plants really don't care whether you cut them back now or wait until spring. The only exceptions are those that had disease issues and should be cut back and disposed of, and a handful of particular plants that actually do poorly if cut back in fall.

Black-eyed Susan
Although I usually recommend that these seed heads be left intact through the winter, if your plants had the lovely black spots of septoria blight this year as mine did, it's a good idea to cut them back now and get rid of all the foliage. If they were healthy, then by all means, leave on the seed heads to feed winter birds and offer some accent in the winter garden.

Purple Coneflower
These seed heads look lovely on the plant through the winter. If you have the inclination and time, you can run your hands along the stems to remove the leaves and not have the black crispy leaves hanging on all winter.

These wonderfully scented plants should be left intact through the winter. They won't thrive next year if cut back now. Simply leave them as they are, and then next spring as soon as the new growth begins, cut back the old growth by about two-thirds. Lavender has its hardest problem surviving winter if it is in a spot that stays wet. Russian sage also needs to be left intact until you can cut it back completely in spring.

Garden phlox often has issues with mildew in the summer months, so it definitely benefits from being cut back now. Try to remove all of the leaves and stems to prevent the mildew spores from overwintering in the garden. It's best to send the debris off to the city compost facility.

Although there are many mildew-resistant varieties of bee balm out there, treat the same as phlox if you had mildew. If not, you can leave the stems up since the seeds will feed birds and wildlife.

Lily stalks serve no purpose staying on for the winter, and actually look pretty ragged. Simply nip them back at ground level. Try not to pull the stalks as you might injure the bulbs.

Iris foliage will often remain green through the winter under snow, but unfortunately, it often harbors iris borer eggs. The best advice is to clip it short now, and then in November after it has died back, remove any traces of foliage to dispose of the eggs.

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