My perennials have performed well this year here in Southern New England, despite a fairly dry spell during the month of August. It is important to keep them deeply watered every few days during this period before they nod off to sleep for the winter; it helps to keep their roots healthy and sound.
Many growers agree that most perennials should not be cut back too severely in the fall. This grower believes, and has proven successful the habit of cleaning the perennial gardens in the fall, trimming back some plants to within six inches, and leaving others to decorate the winter garden with frosty phantoms of spring.
By October, the Rudbeckias (Black Eyed Susan) are weary of their exuberant summer display. Since late July they have been spilling over their boundaries with bright golden petals around deep brown cones. At first killing frost, I will cut the greenery back to about six inches, leaving the dried flower stalks to stand bunched together with a few twist ties. The Goldfinch and other birds will delight in their prolific seeds well into the winter.
Likely you know the Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea) is also of the Rudbeckias family — cousins from way back, you see. I started two new plants this year, a yellow and a light pink — settled them in near an older sister, a well-established purple coneflower. They too begin to straggle by late September, and after the first frost, I will also trim them back to about six inches, again leaving the flower stalks standing sentinel, bound together for support, for the purpose of feeding my feathered friends.
The Sedums, specifically Autumn Joy in my garden, are nearly finished with their late summer display — a burst of rosy blooms that have seduced many butterflies fattening up before their annual migration. The dried plants, dusted with early snow will make such beautiful statues in my winter garden; I will leave them to cut back in the spring.
Oh! The Coreopsis were positively exquisite this year! A couple of small bunches brought earlier last year from a larger patch in our backyard gardens, flourished this spring into two ferny mounds that, in late July, were fairly covered with bursts of small yellow blossoms. Did you know that if you cut off the old blossoms — it’s easier to just cut the whole plant back a few inches than to snip off one blossom at a time — they will bloom all over again? Alas! By now they too are beginning to wane, and with the first frost, I will cut them back to a few inches, and snuggle them in with a warm layer of mulched leaves.
Then there are Hostas! In various shapes and sizes, they compliment the many blooms throughout the gardens, filling in shady patches with leafy grandeur. By now though, the summer heat has them looking positively bereft! I’ve already cut off their long spiky blossoms but will soon cut the plants back to within a couple inches of the soil, covering them too with a blanket of mulched leaves.
The Astilbes — also known as False Spiraea or Meadowsweet are long past their blooming phase. The dried blossoms hold an intrigue of their own though, and they too, grouped together in their feathery bunches, look stunningly beautiful in the winter garden, kissed with Jack Frost’s shenanigans or an early dusting of confectioners’ sugar-snow. And so, looking for every bright spot I can find in the dreary months ahead, I will leave them standing until spring.
The early blooming, delicate purple Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla), and Basket of Gold (Goldentufts) despite but a memory now, have made lovely green contrast for the annuals tucked in around them. This year it was blue ageratum and white alyssum. The annuals will soon be discarded, although I often leave the alyssum to winter over — another feathery dimension to the winter landscape. They have also been known to surreptitiously reseed themselves, here and there, in delightful places come spring. The Pasqueflower and Basket of Gold will also be cut back to within a few inches, and covered warmly with a layer of mulched leaves.
This is a perfect time of year to divide peonies, daylilies, irises, and any spring flowering bulbs as well. Transplant and water them well, and then cover the site with a good warm quilt of mulch. Established peonies should, of course, be cut back close to the ground in the fall. Leaving dead stalks to rot on the ground will encourage disease.
The mums are glorious nestled in among the tired perennials, and some cheerful pumpkins brighten the front steps. A small scarecrow lolls on a garden bench, propped again the house in lethargic pose. Her smile glints with mischief. Perhaps she knows Jack Frost is lurking.
Throw a log or two in the chiminea, will you? I’ll go heat up some mulled cider and let’s sit awhile on the porch, warm our garden-weary hands on a warm mug, kick back and listen in on the chipmunks’ chatter and the crickets’ long lament. Winter is just around the corner.