Putting your flower bed to bed

Frost came early this year for some and not so early for others.

After a hard frost I cannot wait to get out there a yank all the dead plants out. By now, I am so tired of yard work and knowing I have about two weeks’ worth of work of clean up in the beds, I just dread fall! But wait, there is a way that we do not have to work so hard.

Think about pollinators. Plenty of beneficial pollinators winter over in our garden debris. I think it could be beneficial to leave some of the dead plants standing. This will provide cover through the winter months for pollinators and it will add winter interest to your yard. Our native pollinators need a place that is safe and warm in the winter and what better place than the dead foliage from our flower beds and gardens. Plus, so much less work for us – I am all in for that!

Some insects that would benefit by leaving dead foliage include butterflies and moths, bees, and ladybugs. Various species of butterflies and moths survive the winter by hiding under garden debris and some overwinter as a chrysalis. During the winter months, many bees, especially solitary bees, hide in the hollow stems of plants and grasses. Others burrow into the ground or make use of the man-made bee hotels. Yes, that means leaving the pollinator houses out over winter; bringing them in can cause early wakeup for the pollinators. Finally, native ladybugs take cover under rocks, in hollow logs, and beneath leaves to survive until spring. Ladybugs are really beneficial garden insects. There are more than 400 species of ladybug beetles in North America that feed on common garden pests, such as aphids, mites, white flies, and scale insects. In fact, one ladybug can eat a dozen insects a day, so we gardeners love them. Although there are some invasive species, such as Asian lady beetles. These will often find their way into our homes and become pests; native species only overwinter outside.

Besides leaving some standing foliage for winter interest and pollinator cover …

Here are some tasks you should and should not do this time of year:

–Diseased plants should be removed and disposed of. Do not compost any plant foliage that is not healthy, instead burn it or throw it away. You do not want to keep introducing the same problem over and over.

–Pull out any annuals out by the roots, shake the soil back into the bed, and compost only the healthy plants.

–Peony foliage can be cut down. This is also a great time to separate them.

–Irises benefit being trimmed back to about two inches. Make sure your iris rhizomes are not covered, but are clear of debris. Sometimes covered rhizomes can encourage soft rot.

–Dig up any spring planted bulbs, such as canna, dahlias and gladiolus. Any bulbs that are not winter hardy need to be stored in a dry cool area. Once the foliage has died, dig up the bulb and remove excess soil. Allow the bulb to dry for a couple days. For additional information you may visit https://wimastergardener.org/article/storing-tender-bulbs-for-winter/.

–Many people remove all dead foliage from their beds, but I choose not to. I only remove unhealthy foliage and annuals. My yard does not get a lot of snow cover, so the plants are left open and exposed to the freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw cycle. This causes susceptibility to winter kill. Leaving as much foliage as possible will hopefully help catch the snow, giving your plants a more even temperature during the winter months.

–Do not trim shrubs. Trimming and pruning promotes new growth, which is something you do not want now. The best time to prune any woody plant is in the winter months or very early spring while it is still dormant – before the shrub wakes up.

–Loosely wrap thin barked trees with a paper tree wrap. This will help keep the bark from splitting caused by temperature fluctuations. Place fencing around trees to keep wildlife from ruining the bark.

By leaving some of the spent plants and flowers for winter interest and cover for pollinators, this daunting fall cleanup can be done in a few short hours.

Happy Gardening!


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