Perennials are, arguably, the most popular landscape plants. One reason for their popularity is that they don’t have to be replanted every season like annuals do. Even if they are cut back to the ground, they’ll reappear in the spring. Another reason for perennials’ popularity is the number of varieties available in the nursery trade. There are both woody and herbaceous perennials and they are hybridized extensively. However, perennials are NOT known for is being low maintenance.
As we transition from fall into winter, there are still some perennial maintenance tasks that you should do before winter really sets in. Doing these jobs now, instead of waiting until spring, is good for the plants, as well as your time management.
Many herbaceous perennials should be cut back in the fall. Wait until the leaves turn color and then cut the plants back to within a couple of inches of the ground. If you leave shoot stubs sticking up above the ground, you’ll always know where the perennials are in your landscape, as long as that bed is snow-free. The old shoot stubs will also help protect fresh shoots from animal damage in the spring.
Leaving ornamental grass standing until spring will provide winter interest. It will also break up the drab of snow we are apt to experience. You can do the same thing with taller perennials like coneflowers or goldenrod. Besides adding interest in the bleak winter snow, spent flowers and seed heads above the snow provide hard-to-find food for birds.
The second fall maintenance task for perennials is splitting them. This applies to both herbaceous and woody plants. Many perennials tend to spread and, if left unchecked, can take over a planting bed and smother the other plants. The way to keep them in check is to divide them. This is done by digging up the whole plant. Cut the root in half and each half in half again. Return one section to the hole from which you just took the plant, backfill and water. Plant the other three sections in other beds in your yard, give them to friends or “heel” them in (temporary planting method) until spring and then donate them to one of the many charity plant sales.
Cutting back perennials and dividing them are relatively easy DIY tasks. However, if you don’t want to do it yourself, our landscape crews are available to do it for you. With snow threatening, the time to act is now.