It won’t be long before winter descends upon us. If you’ve lived in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area for any length of time, you know that winter scenery can range from a few flurries now and then to months of snow covering your entire landscape. How boring!
The best way to break up the visual monotony is to include winter color in your landscape design. You’re probably not going to invest in winter interest plants at this late date but there are several things to do, or not do, now to add interest to a plain vanilla winterscape.
Ornamental grass is one of the most popular winter interest groups of plants. By now, they’ve turned brown, tan or gray and have seedheads that blow and rustle in the wind. Hopefully, you resist the temptation to cut them back in the fall. If you’re one of those in the minority that does cut ornamental grass back in the fall, wait until spring this year and let nature take its course. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see those fuzzy tan, brown or gray whisps swaying in the breeze after the first good snowfall.
You’ll still have to cut ornamental grass back but you will have deferred the job until spring. It’s important that you do cut it back in spring to make room for next year’s growth. As soon as you can get out in spring, probably in April, grab your favorite cutting tool – usually hedge clippers work best – and cut each clump of grass back as close to the ground as possible. You’ll soon see new, green shoots growing among the stubble. If you see the new shoots when you begin cutting, adjust and cut above the new growth.
Ornamental grass isn’t the only “dead” plants that can add winter interest to your landscape. Leave the stems and flowers on tall perennials for the winter, too. Perennials like Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and Cone Flowers (Echinacea) come to mind because they’re tall and add color and dimension to your landscape when they’re in bloom. Keeping the stems and the last spent flowers in the fall contributes to winter interest. What more could you ask from such a plant?
Use your judgement when deciding whether to cut other perennials or let them stay until spring. For example, keep tall hostas that will peek up through the snow. Cut the shorter varieties to keep the planting bed looking clean and neat on those days when you have little or no snow.
If you like the contrast these dead plants add to your landscape this winter, plan on augmenting them next spring with plants with specific winter features. Their familiar red berries make hollies good winter interest shrubs. Most holly varieties have separate male and female plants. Be sure there’s a male in the mix to enable the female plants to bear the red berries that provide the winter interest.
A few other plants that provide winter color include red stemmed dogwood, witch hazel and hellebores. A good winter activity would be to work with one of our professional landscape designers to expand your landscape to one with four season color, rather than the three season color that’s so common here. Do this during the winter so you can be all set for our landscape professionals to install first thing in the spring and you can enjoy winter color next year.