Cut back your perennial plants. As you may have noticed, we’ve had a freeze or two, so perennials have either gone brown or turned to mush. No, they’re not dead, they’re dormant and so now you can overwinter them. Cut back these plants close to the ground, giving them a fresh slate for spring. Complete your cut backs before new spring growth begins – usually by the end of February. Also, in years where we do not have freezes it’s still a good idea to do cutbacks to your non-woody perennials, by about a third or half. This helps promote stronger root systems which in turn promotes more vigorous growth and blooms.
Remove leaves. Leaves are a great natural (and free!) mulch that breaks down over time but thick piles of leaves can shade out and rot plants underneath. Also many people prefer the garden to look more tidy instead of leaf-covered. Oak leaves are a little different because they do not break down as easily and have high tannic levels which can suppress growth, so while leaving some oak leaves is totally fine, thick layers of them should be removed. Non-live oak leaf litter can be composted in a pile and reused in the landscape after it has broken down if you would like to keep them on-site.
Spread compost in the garden. Now that the perennials are cut back, it’s a great time to feed your soil. Spread a layer of high quality compost or compost blend in the beds. Compost adds nitrogen and keeps the soil ecosystem healthy which in turn leads to vigorous plants with more blooms and which are better able to handle the summer heat.
Add mulch. If you do choose to remove the leaves from your yard for tidiness sake, please consider mulching where mulch in your garden is thin. Mulch helps regulate soil temperatures and moisture (especially important in the summer) and helps suppress pesky weeds.
- Make a plan. Now that your cutbacks have been done, leaves have been removed, and mulch put down, your garden may feel a bit bare. What a good time to reassess the structural elements of your space now that you have a good view of the lay of the land! Do you want to plant some more trees (you can plant trees year round)? Do you want to build some veggie beds now so that they’re ready for spring? Put in an arbor, a pathway, build a dry creek, transplant some existing shrubs or shape out some new planting beds? Good foundations make for functional, beautiful gardens by giving plants a sense of place.
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