I have a feeling autumn’s going to be early this year. So I’ll begin tidying and winterizing my garden- but at the right times.
I always take out annuals before the first frost. If I wait, it’s rough, miserable work. When the ground is frozen even a little, the plant won’t slip out easily, and will have to be sorted with a shovel, and a good tug- which is a perfect setup for a back problem- and a sailor’s vocabulary.
I’ll trim perennials after the second hard frost, when the ground is frozen to two inches down. (If I can’t push in a shovel, it’s frozen.) The plant has gone into dormancy and won’t notice a thing I’m doing.
I’ll trim lavender to about 3-4 inches above the ground, so I can still see the teeny buds; if cut too high it gets ‘thick around the waist’ and loses much of its grace and airiness in following years. Lavender lives about 8 years, and appreciates correct trimming to keep it healthy during its life. (Interestingly, some perennials, like roses and peonies, can live well over a hundred years.)
I’ll trim back any climbing roses that would whip around in winter winds, or that might split if too much snow piles on top.
About now, I always cut back all my lilies, daylilies and aubretia to about three inches, leaving enough stem to mark where they are in spring. All should have evolved to yellow. (I’ll get healthy growth next year because I’ve let them ripen for so long.) Meanwhile though, those flowerless stems can be annoying, so I use them as supports for annual climbers, like Mandevilla. That way the two-plus months it takes for their stems to turn yellow won’t bother me nearly as much. They’ll be useful to other plants, and still look very nice, as vines wind around their sturdy poles and flower profusely. (Bonus: the lilies appear to bloom again!)
I’ll take trusty serrated bread knife outside and cut every hosta to the ground in early October, leaving nothing above. This job is soooo simple when I have this tool, and such a wretched task, otherwise. If I wait too long the leaves go mushy; slugs settle into the slime and make more slugs. I’d face the price of dithering in a few months. Ugh!
(Note: in spring, when little round hosta bumps emerge, I won’t step on the invisible new growth because now I’ll push in cheap little red flags (found at Ace Hardware, sold by the hundred) as a reminder.
And later in autumn, say, November, I’ll wrap smaller tree trunks with tree paper, or plastic ‘curls’ to prevent ravenous rodents- like rabbits and squirrels- from gnawing their bark in the dead of winter. They can ruin a tree in an evening. (Any ‘ringed’ bush or tree would surely die.) I even wrap my large Rose of Sharon bush’s multiple trunk-like limbs to discourage them.
My cherished autumn-blooming clematis won’t be touched until spring, when it’s warmer and most of the snow is gone and I’m fired up and don’t mind spending roughly half a day on each. (They’re huge- at least 60 feet long.) I’ll begin at the end and work back, taking just the straw-like dead stuff. It’s tedious work, but I’ll do it cheerfully because I always listen to a good story as I work.
(By the way, there is little need to trim young (1-4 year old) clematis. Just attend to the grownups. My reward? A glorious sight and scent every September.)
Now I’ll trim daisy stems and lady’s mantle right down to the little basal leaves.
I’ll buy a couple of bags of good earth to fill in the little and big holes made when I removed annuals. Beds won’t look so ‘cored out’ in spring, and rodents, especially chipmunks, looking for a place to burrow in, won’t carry on digging the holes I created. (After hard frosts set in, though, every animal has chosen its home and settled down, erasing that problem.)
Some annuals, like artemesia, cineraria and certain annual vines, if covered with earth or a biggish flowerpot with a bit of earth on top to hold it in place, might live through winter. Mine have survived eight winters because, one year, just to experiment, I flopped a bit of light mulch over them, then a largish flower pot to keep them from wind burn. Decent money is saved because I didn’t have to purchase them all over again.
Oh- another thing; I’m going to overseed my lawn now, and must take care not to get too close to beds. I use a big piece of cardboard to insure this. Then I throw dry earth thinly over the top of seeded bald spots, and water. If I forget to go slowly, in mid-spring I’ll have to remove lots of grass growing among my perennials, blurring the pretty picture. I learned to be careful years ago, when my cheerfully flung grass seed spent all winter growing deep roots in my beds and then spring up to almost a foot high. Arghhhh!
Finally- and most folks forget this step- I’ll sharpen my gardening tools, oil them, and hang them high. It’s been a lovely summer, but soon it’ll be time to rest and think about music and books...