Perennials and perennial grasses are great! They add a beautiful pop of colour to your garden without the work of planting them every spring. There is however a little clean up required every year to keep them looking beautiful.
As the temperatures in fall start dropping below zero, the leaves and stems of perennials and perennial grasses begin to freeze and die off. The root system will go dormant for the winter and the plant will begin to regrow from the ground in spring. The dead leaves and stems will not inhabit next year’s growth, but they do look messy and decaying plant matter does increase the risk of disease and fungus.
When to Remove Plant Debris
The best time to clean up your perennial beds is early spring as soon as the snow is gone and before new growth starts.
You might be thinking, “Why can’t I do this clean up in fall once everything freezes?” There are several advantages to leaving the dead plant matter in the garden through the winter:
- The dead plants catch snow and help increase the snow cover over the garden. This helps insulate the roots from the freezing temperatures, helping the plant survive our winters. The melting snow in spring provides an excellent source of water for our gardens.
- The dead plant material provides shelter for wildlife. Birds and small animals can hide from the harsh winter weather in the taller stems and leaves. Beneficial insects can overwinter in the leaf litter at the base of these plants.
- The dead plant material can add winter interest to your garden. Tall perennial grasses often stand above the snow providing a focal point in a sea of white. Their graceful movement in the wind is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer.
How to Remove Plant Debris
To clean up perennials, take a pair of garden shears or scissors and cut the dead plant material as close to the ground as possible. For tall perennial grasses, like Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass, cut about 4 inches above the ground. Make sure to remove the dead plant material from the bed and compost it if you have the ability.