Cut and conquer

Experts offer tips for putting your garden to bed

Experts offer tips for putting your garden to bed

October 06, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Forgo a fall gardening faux pas.

Don't cut down all your plants. It's unnecessary.

Don't cut your hedges in cube shapes. It makes them more vulnerable to winter cold.

And don't plant your bulbs in a straight line, "like little soldiers," because it wields the same visual effect as a string of Christmas lights with intermittent bulbs missing, says Master Gardener W.B. "Bud" Marshall.

"They don't bloom all at once. They look better in random clusters," says Marshall, who teaches gardening classes for Penn State Cooperative Extension's Franklin County, Pa., office.

Most gardeners know that fall is the time to plan and nurture, laying down the groundwork for a beautiful, bountiful garden next year.


But knowing how to nurture is another matter, says Jon Traunfeld, director of home and gardening information for Maryland Cooperative Extension.

There has been a resurgence in the popularity of gardening during the past few years - with the newest batch of gardeners lacking the know-how of their forebears, Traunfeld says.

But the newcomers aren't the only ones who could use the help.

Marshall and Annette Ipsan, horticulture and Master Gardener coordinator for Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County, say they have seen the most seasoned gardeners make blunders.

Here are three things Ipsan, Marshall and Traunfeld say should be done now to prepare the garden for next year:

1. Know what to cut

When it comes to winterizing the garden, resist the urge to cut down everything - it's unnecessary. Appropriate plants should be cut roughly 2 to 3 inches from the ground after a killing frost, in late October or early November. Other plants can be left alone, altogether.

You should cut:

· Diseased plants.

· Plants that don't do well in the winter (such as veronicas or geraniums).

· Vigorous reseeders or plants you don't want to reseed, such as yellow scabiosa.

· When trimming shrubs, avoid unnatural cube shapes. This makes them more susceptible to winter cold.

You shouldn't cut:

· The "pretty" perennials - plants that contribute aesthetically to the garden. Brazilian verbena, guara and lavender are examples. Also, perennials with attractive evergreen foliage at the base, such as sundrops and evergreen candytuft, should not be cut.

· Mums, Monch asters, tender ferns and other tender perennials. The old foliage helps protect the crowns through winter.

· Perennials that are late to show in the spring, such as plumbago, baptisia, or wild blue indigo. Leaving a bit of the stem makes them easier to find and harder to plant on top of.

2. Divide and conquer

Separating root clumps encourages air movement between plants and discourages disease, but certain plants call for different methods.

For perennials:

· Remove the clump with a garden fork or shovel.

· Using your hands, divide plants into smaller pieces. Use a spade to separate plants with woody centers. Fiberous-rooted plants such as day lilies can be divided using two forks back to back.

· Keep only the healthy, vigorous sections with several shoots and good roots.

· Replant divided sections, and water thoroughly.

For rhizomes:

· Dig up the entire clump, and remove the loose soil.

· Remove new, young rhizomes from the clump, and neatly trim the stem ends with a knife.

· Cut leaves down to 6 inches or shorter for ease of handling and to avoid rocking in winds.

· Plant with rhizomes about half buried, and water well.

For bulbs:

· Use a garden fork to lift the entire clump.

· Divide the clump by hand into smaller chunks, then break down to individual bulbs.

· Toss any unhealthy bulbs.

· Remove soil and tunics from the good bulbs, and replant at a depth that is three times the bulb's diameter.

· For bulbs with "bulblets" or cormels (gladioluses, lilies and crocuses), dig up the bulb, remove the bulblet and replant them, as well. Newly planted bulblets might take several years to bloom.

3. Feed the soil

Get rid of all the dead matter and put down some compost. If you don't have a compost pile, now's the time to get one going. Just don't put your diseased plants or weeds in the pile - you'll create more work for yourself come spring by reintroducing them to your garden in mulch form.

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