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Time to clean up the gardens for winter

Carson Arthur – www.carsonarthur.com

The snap in the air signifies more than just the arrival of winter. It also means that it’s officially time to clean out the perennial beds. This can be a challenge even for the most experienced gardener because we always forget the specific treatment for any new species or plants that we’ve added to beds. Case in point, last fall I whacked a Russian sage to the ground, treating it like a regular sage, and almost killed it in the process. (Total garden fail on my part.)

For the novice gardener, you have a few options. You can travel around the garden with your smart phone and look up every plant before you deal with it…or…use these general rules when deciding if what’s above the ground should stay or go.

Yellow leaves and mushy stems are a definite sign that a plant is done for the year. When the leaves turn yellow, it means that they are no longer producing food for the plant. Referred to as being ‘chlorotic’ this yellowing of the leaves can happen for various reasons including lack of iron, cold temperatures, or even disease. Bottom line, when they go yellow, the leaves have no more purpose for the plant and can be removed. The same is true for the stems of perennials like hostas that will also turn yellow and mushy. Woody stems should be left in place until spring to see if they will rebud.

Seeds and dried flowers are up to you if you want to keep them or not. Many plants that spread via seeds, can take over a garden bed if left unchecked. However, birds rely on these seeds as a food source throughout the winter. If you are worried about an aggressive plant like thyme, spreading through your garden, clip the seed heads and save them in a paper bag until the ground is frozen. Then you can add them around the bird feeder and let the chickadees do the work.

Look for little buds. Like sweet little red-leafed dragon’s blood sedum, many plants will send out new growth on the old branches that appear dead. Keep an eye out for these because if you chop them off, odds are that you won’t get flowers next spring. Instead of removing the ugly branches, lightly bury them in mulch. Not only will the mulch protect them from winter winds, it also helps the garden look neater at a time when there are not many things happening to draw the eye.

Gardening is all about trial and error. You are going to make mistakes…we all do. By learning some of these simple basic rules when it comes to fall cleanup, you have a better chance of making less of them and that’s all anyone can really ask.

<em><strong>-Landscape designer Carson Arthur is host of HGTV’s new Home to Win show. He is also the outdoor expert with City TV’s Cityline and wrote the sell-out book Garden Designs for Outdoor Living in 2015. More at <a href=”http://www.carsonarthur.com” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>carsonarthur.com
</a> <a href=”http://www.countylive.ca/?cat=1168″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Click here for previous columns</a></strong></em>

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