Perennials are a wonderful addition to any landscape, and while they are relatively easy and low-key, not all perennials are as hardy for winter as they may seem. Fortunately, it is easy to prepare perennials so they can survive the cold and will come back in spring larger and lovelier than ever.
Winterizing Your Perennials
Not all perennials need the same care to withstand the ravages of winter, but there are several good rules to follow to ensure that any winter damage is minimized and your perennials continue to thrive year after year.
- Stop fertilizing perennials in mid- to late summer so their growth will slow and they will begin to go dormant. This helps harden off the plants so they are fully prepared for the first frosts and freezes.
- Cut back on watering in fall to assist with hardening off, but do not stop watering altogether. Perennials that are drought-stressed will be less hardy in winter, but adequate water will help bolster root systems for good survival. Stop watering completely only when the ground has frozen.
- Check for any rotting foliage and remove bad sections before the damage spreads. In areas with very mild, freeze-free winters, this may be all the care that is needed and perennials may continue to grow throughout the winter.
- Dig up delicate bulbs such as dahlias, gladioluses and cannas that cannot survive hard winter freezes. These bulbs should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place until they can be replanted in spring when the soil is warm again.
- Divide and transplant overgrown or overcrowded perennials in early to mid-fall. This gives the plants adequate time for root systems to become established before winter sets in, and even if the plants appear shocked or droopy after being moved, they will recover in the spring.
- Cut back stems and foliage to 6-8 inches above the ground if desired. This can make spring cleanup easier and minimize the risk of any winter rotting. In some cases, however, you may wish to leave dry seed heads available for winter birds and wildlife, or you may enjoy the winter interest from attractive stems and grasses. For those plants, prune in spring instead.
- Add compost around perennial plants in fall so it will slowly decay and absorb into the soil throughout the winter. This will improve the soil condition and provide gentle nourishment to the plant for healthy spring growth.
- Consider adding a layer of mulch around perennials to protect their root systems from the coldest temperatures. Hay, pine needles and evergreen boughs are ideal options for adding insulation to keep soil warm without crushing the plants. Perennials that are hardy for winter in your area, however, do not need mulching to survive.
- Continue weeding as long as possible, even after the first frosts or light snowfalls. The more weeds that are removed in autumn, the fewer that will be left to sprout in spring and compete with your perennials for available water and nutrition.
- Plant new perennials in fall as desired. Many garden centers and plant nurseries will have great deals on plants in late fall as they clear out their stock. If you prefer not to plant, take the time to study your landscaping closely and note where you want to add more plants in the spring. That list can help you choose new plants from catalogs or be ready to go shopping as soon as new plants arrive at garden centers when winter ends.
With a few simple steps, your perennials will be ready for all the ice, snow and cold winter brings, and they'll be ready to burst into beautiful spring growth and color before you know it.