Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall Clean-up: The Annual Debate

I am of the gardening school of thought that advocates leaving spent perennial foliage through the winter and cutting it back in the early spring. There are number of reasons for this—providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, maintaining some color in the garden once flowers are done blooming, having a landing place for snowflakes as well as brown matter to contrast with those snowflakes, in the hope of achieving that elusive "winter interest" in the garden, etc.

Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) seedheads stand 6' tall...when dusted in snow they exemplify "winter interest"
Personally, I have rarely seen birds eating the seeds of my spent plants, although in late summer the goldfinches were feasting on purple hyssop seeds. But I also get the sense that old foliage protects plants through the winter, maybe helping to prevent frost heave and shielding the plant from freeze/thaw cycles. I don't know, it's just a hunch.
'Purple Emperor' sedums with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) photobombing

However, all those good reasons/intentions do not supersede the reality of dealing with straight-up ugliness in my garden. Essentially, if spent foliage just looks awful, I'm getting rid of it in the fall. Yes, it will all look awful by February, but if it's sad and dilapidated in October there's no chance I want to keep looking at it as it gets soaked, frozen, and increasingly beat down by winter.
Purple hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) with vine-whose-name-I-can't-remember look good in fall and so get to stay

So today I cut back some barren sticks that used to be purple hyssop (I think the finches were done with them, guessing by the looks of them), some flopping stems of brown-eyed susans, and nameless hostas. 'Halcyon', 'Touch of Class' and 'June' all look good, or at least they're on the spectrum between not terrible and still got it. The nameless ones were riddled with holes and yellowing, but not in a good-festive-fallish way. They were feeding nothing but any slugs still lurking around.

'Halcyon' still hanging in there

Am I prioritizing good looks over ecological utility? Maybe so, but overall there are still plenty of food sources, shelter materials, root protectors, etc., still left in my garden. Plus, is it really a bad think to cut back monarda and peony foliage swamped with powdery mildew? Doubtful. Mildew will always be in the soil here, but letting more knowingly incubate under the fall blanket of leaves seems unwise. It's a debate each year about what stays and what goes!
Zizia aurea (left) and Coreopsis tripteris (right)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day—October 2014

Forgive me garden, for I have sinned. It has been two years since my last blog post.

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day seemed like an auspicious day to get back to it, so here I am! Although admittedly there isn't much still in bloom. However...

Aster shortii
These short's asters are making a hesitant comeback after being voraciously mowed down by rabbits (and likely other animals) during a drought a few years ago. I'm not sure what made them so appealing, but their wholesale destruction at the time led me to believe they were done for. But, like so many garden surprises, a few seeds or runners must have survived because they've been shyly appearing the last two years. Much smaller than before, they hide amongst the spent plants and the fence in this prairie border as if to say, "Are the rabbits gone yet?" (Spoiler: they're not gone, they've multiplied but seem to have plenty of other food sources.)

I'm relieved and happy to have these late-season blooms with their cool blue-violet color back. With all the rain we've had the last two years, it's hard to imagine a time when conditions were so dry that animals needed to devour any and all stems and leaves that might be holding moisture.

Solidago ulmifolia
 A few elm-leaved goldenrods are still blooming. I'm a huge fan of these plants because they flower profusely in dry shade, but I would have to warn you that they are aggressive, bordering on invasive. For me that's no problem because the dry clay in shade kills almost everything I try to grow, or at least causes it to grow weakly, so if a plant can colonize in those conditions, be my guest!
Every one of those little yellow florets becomes a puffball of seeds

And indeed, they've spread to become the major feature in the dry shady section of my front border. For those who would prefer to check their spread, deadhead the plumes as they go to seed. I'm pretty sure the prodigious seeds production is what allows these plants to spread so extensively.

Ruellia humilis
Speaking of seedheads, check out these wild petunias that have gone to seed! No they're not a bloom technically, but I had never seen these go to seed before and it's delightful, reminiscent of another low-growing prairie favorite of mine, Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum).

And for good measure, here's some colorful foliage of Solomon's seal:
Polygonatum oderatum

While also not a bloom, these beautiful yellowing leaves capture where the garden is at right now, in mid-October. Happy Bloom Day!

You May Also Like

Related Posts with Thumbnails