In this issue:
Perennial fall cuts
Start cutting and rearranging
perennial garden now for best spring show
What's the rule for cutting down perennials? Should it
be done in the fall? In the spring? - C.G. -
No one cuts perennials in their natural, non-garden habitats,
unless you count browsing animals. So guidelines for cutting are
gardener-oriented and subjective.
I start cutting perennials in June and continue through fall. I
cut plants whenever they begin to look ragged. Right now my hit
list features tall phlox, bee balm, globe thistle and daylilies.
Those that fall after mid-July may produce new foliage later in
that growing season or may go dormant for the year but either way,
every one that was healthy and established before the cut will
return in 2005. I'm as certain of their comeback as I am resigned
to that of a big dandelion I decapitated in lieu of pulling.
Almost every perennial I grow receives this treatment. During
the season I spare those with post-bloom foliage or seed pods I
admire or use. So when my last toad lily and purple bush clover
bloom in October, they do so in beautiful company, free of fading,
At season end I pass over woody evergreens -- candytuft, sage,
lavender, etc. -- and herbaceous species that can look good during
winter. However, that rule is also made to be broken. In one garden
I leave blackeyed Susan and feather reed grass to be enjoyed until
the next April, but in another where no one will be around to see
that duo in winter, I cut them in fall. In naturalized gardens, I
never cut these two at all. Sometimes I cut them even though we'd
appreciate their winter presence because one has leaf spot and the
other has rust, infections that will be worse next year if that
contagious debris is left in place.
When I cut, it's all the way to the ground. In some cases this
means the plant is reduced to a clump of basal, semi-evergreen
leaves. In other cases, the plant essentially disappears until
Perennial question: How to
When we purchased our house five years ago there were no
perennials in the yard. Our yard backs up to 22 acres of woods, so
I cleared six feet into the woods and planted some perennials. Now
it looks very messy. I can't remember what everything is but there
were Virginia bluebells, bleeding hearts, fern, Ligularias,
leopard's bane and some wild woodland plants that have purple
flowers in May.
To make it look better, do you plant all one type of
plant together? What can I add? Are there any rules of thumb about
tall plants in back or middle? I think my problem is there is no
design to my work, everything is thrown in. - P.C. -
When we design we start with about ten plants that will thrive
on the site, fit the maintenance schedule, meet the goals for such
things as cut flowers or attracting butterflies, and look good
together even out of bloom. You're in a good place to try this
approach, because now you know which plants can thrive there, which
were enjoyable rather than taxing to maintain, and which pleased
you most in other ways.
Start by making a list of "keeper" plants. List
only those that pass all three tests -- will grow well there, are
no trouble to maintain and are pleasing to you. Then note the
shape, texture and foliage color of each plant. For instance, old
fashioned bleeding heart is mounded, blue-green and medium texture.
"Medium texture" means it's composed of segments that fail to blend
into a solid "fine" mass when seen from a distance of about 20
feet, yet don't quite hold their own as distinct bits. In contrast,
some Ligularias are coarse in texture by virtue of big, bold leaves
with maroon undersides.
Look at your list for patterns, and add to
strengthen a theme or build contrast. I think you will add plants
that are mat-forming, vertical or vase-shaped, have foliage that is
gold, white or variegated, and are either very fine or very coarse
in texture. Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), hostas such as
'Sum & Substance' or 'Sugar & Cream', white-edged Jacob's
ladder (Polemonium 'Brise D'Anjou) and meadow rue
(Thalictrum species) are all possibilities.
How many of each plant you need depends on the viewer. If the
garden is seen most often from windows 60 feet away, you may need
12 white-edged Jacob's ladders to have an impact, but if the main
viewer is just six feet away, two or three may be enough.
More on perennial design with illustrations, in Design
a Perennial Bed.
Green thumbs up
to continuing the Master Gardener Program.
to burning or cutting caterpillar webs from
trees. The insects ate leaves but not wood or next year's buds.
Your saw or flame will do more damage than they did!
First published 9/4/04