BY MELISSA SERENDA AND LINDA SCHREIBER
Fall is a great time to clean the garden and dream of spring. If you are lucky enough to have strawberry plants, mulch them with 3 to 5 inches of weed-free straw or chopped plant materials to prevent winter injury.
Remember trees and shrubs need protection from critter damage. Encircle them with chicken wire fencing or hardware cloth about 24 to 36 inches high. The protection should be tall enough that rabbits can’t climb in or reach over after a heavy snow.
Houseplants need added humidity in winter months. Place pots on trays or saucers filled with pea gravel or pebbles. Add water to the trays but keep the pot bottoms above the water line. The evaporation of water helps increase the humidity for the plants.
Fall is the time to clean, sharpen and oil all your garden tools. Cleaning tools in the fall prevents rust and clean tools are easier to sharpen. Remember sharp tools perform better.
After the first frost, remove annuals and plant debris from the garden. Here in the Midwest, when the temperature drops, the appearance of our perennials suffers. Remove diseased, infested or otherwise compromised perennial plants but leave healthy seed heads standing. Leaving the seed heads of your perennials provides natural foraging habitat for wildlife. When food is scarce, gardens full of withered fruit and dried seed heads provide birds with a reliable food source during winter months. Seed-eating songbirds will love that you thought of them.
Fall garden cleaning may save time in the spring, but letting some plants stand will benefit the environment. Dried stalks, seedpods and leaves add interest in the garden as the snow falls. Ornamental grasses add color, movement and texture to the winter landscape. Leave switchgrass, Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) standing until spring when the grasses can be cut back as new growth appears.
Some perennials are more likely to survive if old stalks and leaves are not removed before new growth begins in the spring. Dead stems trap leaves and snow around the crown of the plant to provide insulation and protection from the cold. Garden mums (Chrysanthemum), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and Nippon daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) do better if trimmed in the spring versus fall cutting. If the stems are left standing, it makes it easier to remember where those perennials are located in the garden and you won’t accidentally dig in that location.
Plants that do not provide many benefits to wildlife or winter interest can be cut back in the fall to reduce labor in the spring. Examples include iris (Iris), daylilies (Hemerocallis), hosta (Hosta), astilbe (Astilbe), peony (Paeonia), yarrow (Achillea), lungwort (Pulmonaria), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).
Although letting perennials stand throughout the winter may create more work in the spring, it may increase wildlife value, beauty and plant survival — all things gardeners appreciate