House & Home

View from the Garden: Winterize Your Garden Now

I have been making significant changes in my garden!

I have finally moved plants that needed to be moved several years ago. I have made new beds. I have added four callicarpa (beauty bush) along the front fence and changed the bed along the street by rearranging grasses that were there and adding new ones. The front of my house now looks like a garden, and I am further along in the plan to reduce, as much as is reasonable, the lawn-like areas. (Lawn-like areas are those that are populated by assorted plants that have chosen to live there. I don’t want a lawn and I hate mowing.)

I first saw a callicarpa at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden after it had dropped its leaves. They have, even now with leaves still on, dense rings of tiny deep lavender balls on the branches. I thought someone had perhaps glued them on as the shrub looked so bizarre, but that is not the case! They get to be 4’x4’ shrubs and are rather magical.

This is a very good time to buy ornamental grasses as you can see them in “flower,” and they are easier to place in the garden fully grown. They are at garden centers now.

Garden centers still have trees, shrubs and perennials, many on sale. Now is a good time to plant (and transplant.) Be sure to supply enough water until cold weather sets in.

Garden centers also have spring flowering bulbs. They can be (ideally in large and varied quantities) planted until the ground is frozen. I remember planting some daffodils using a pick axe to break up the top frozen layer of soil. Not the best way to do it, but they did live and bloom. If you have a deer problem, do not plant tulips or crocus

We are well into garden breakdown mode. I have been removing and cutting back plants as they become unattractive for several weeks. The best time to cut and remove those that remain after these sweeps is after the first light frost, but you don’t have to wait until then. I work in several gardens in which I remove no plants until spring. I do remove leaves under roses that have had black spot (I don’t know of any that have no black spot) and debris from under plants that have had fungus that is not caused by weather. Some clients want the garden completely cut back. I have one garden that has many spring bulbs—to avoid walking on it, I cut back any plants that I can now. Aconitum and dahlias are still flowering, so they get a temporary pass.

The next plants to get a trim for winter are roses. Long canes of climbing roses are tied in. I cut back long canes of shrub roses to a length where they will not be harmed by wind. Major rose pruning happens in spring.

This is a good time to speak to the person who mows your lawn (maybe it is you) about using a mulching blade on his mower and leaving the grass clippings with the leaves he picks up on the lawn. With a mulching blade, leaves are shredded and become food for the grass. When the leaves have fallen in great quantity, stop, as the quantity of leaves is probably too great. This can also be done with a regular mower by making two or more passes over the grass and leaves.

I have used the collected grass and leaves from the mower as mulch in areas that tend to be very weedy. This works well in those more hidden weedy areas on the property that might not get regular attention, though I would use it on any bed at my house if I had enough grass-like material to make that ratio!

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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