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No two gardeners have the same approach
There are two types of people in the world.
The first type whisks the dirty Thanksgiving dishes away to be scrubbed and stacked before the gravy has a chance to congeal on the plates. The second type leaves the cleanup ‘til morning, believing a heinous job is better tackled with a cup of strong coffee and a good night’s sleep — especially when it comes to desiccated turkey carcasses and marshmallow-encrusted yams.
In the same way, gardeners’ philosophies on garden cleanup can be like night and day.
Some will tear through their fading flower beds in the fall and level everything at once, sacrificing any late bloomers in their clean sweep.
Others will put off any attempt to make order out of chaos, even after the dahlias turn to black goo in the first heavy frost and the wizened daisies have stood morosely at attention for eons.
Sure, all the hostas are down for the count and the thinning greenery has laid bare that thoroughfare the voles have made of the raised beds, but they’re in no hurry to rush into the fray with a rake and shears. They’re putting their trust in nature’s way of evening out the playing field with a blanket of clean, white winter snow.
I think good gardening can fall somewhere in between. Putting just a little effort into tucking your garden in for the winter can save both time and tears later on, especially where nature has left you some wiggle room to decide for yourself what should stay and what should go.
Unless you like the look of dead ornamental grasses in the wintertime, you can cut them back to the ground now. They only have to be cut back once a year, but if you leave it too late, you’ll end up cutting the old stuff back along with all the new shoots. Wait until early spring, or do it now and forget about it
The same goes for Russian sage. It can be cut back in the early spring or the fall down to within a few inches of the crown. Its pale, bare branches can be quite beautiful in a winter garden, but it’s up to you to decide whether that look is right for you.
For sure, dig up and divide your bulbs, gather up the slimy remains of the hostas and other herbaceous goners and go ahead and use the fallen leaves of the gunnera to use as winter mulch over its crown. Hack back your santolinas with abandon, level your daisies and shear the lavenders to within an inch or two of old wood.
For now, don’t prune the fuchsias, penstemon or the roses. Do get in the habit of cleaning up beneath your rose bushes, though, especially if they suffer from black spot. Those leaves can harbor and spread diseases, so it’s best to avoid composting them.
Finally, if you do nothing else in your garden this winter, try to keep the quack grass under control. If you think it goes on hiatus during the off season, you’re wrong. I’ve seen it drill its way into one side of a tulip bulb and out the other. It is relentless, and so you should be, too!