Fall garden cleanup

I had a request from my sister-in-law (hi, Tammy!) to do a blog entry about fall garden cleanup.

This is nice, because it gives me a topic for a blog entry.  This is ironic, because, although I can probably give you all the information you’d like about what kinds of things a conscientious gardener does in the fall to prepare for winter, I almost never do any of it myself. :)

Not because I think it’s not important, or at least worthwhile, but because at this time of year I almost always have more urgent things to tend to. Things like canning and freezing excess produce–things that really won’t wait. And so the fall garden chores stay at the bottom of the list, until they actually become spring garden chores. :)

But. . . here goes.

If you have a limited amount of time and have to pick and choose what kinds of chores you get done, I would put cutting down and disposing of peony and iris foliage at the top of the list. This is because overwintering peony foliage can harbor mildew, which will afflict your peonies all over again next year, and iris foliage can harbor iris borers, which will afflict your irises next year.  Don’t ever compost peony and iris foliage–just dispose of it.

If this is as far as you get, hey, you’re about two steps ahead of me.

Of course, ideally, I would love to get all of my perennials cut off and the beds all ready for spring growth. . . but I’ve got a lot of beds and that takes a lot of time. One thing that I would leave up all winter, though, is the perennial grasses–they look pretty good all winter, and until we get about 4 feet of snow (which could be in November), they will continue to give some of what garden writers always call “winter interest.” :)


I’ve also been asked what I cover for the winter, and the quick answer to that is, “Nothing.”  There are no divas in my garden (and there are those who find that ironic). 😉 I always say if they can’t survive the winters here then they’d better go ahead and perish because I’m not coddling them–I don’t have the time or the inclination.  There are SO many wonderful perennials that are plenty hardy enough to survive a Northern Minnesota winter, I’m not about to plant things that can’t. (If you think that this is because I’m basically a lazy person, you’re right.)

So, that’s the gist of it–cut off peonies and irises and whatever else you have the time and inclination for, and let the rest of it go until spring.  It will still be there waiting for you if you don’t get around to it before then. 😉

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10 Responses to Fall garden cleanup

  1. Sheri says:

    Well, maybe SOMETIMES there’s a diva in your garden…… :)

  2. Dixie says:

    I’m with you! My fall garden chores mostly become my spring garden chores! 😉

  3. Ginny says:

    Hi Sandi :)
    This reminds me of a question I have this year. Someone mentioned to me that the peonies this year are having trouble with mildew of some sort, even in the late summer. When I checked, I had one peony mound that looked like it had it…but none of the others do (mine are all basically in an L-shaped row). We have cut them all back for winter, but is there anything I need to do now (or next spring) about about the mildew problem? I don’t want it to spread or kill my plants. I find it ironic that I had this mildew stuff in one of the driest summers on record.
    Any advice would be most welcome! Thanks! ~Ginny

    • Sandi says:

      You know, I have noticed the same thing all around town–peonies with obvious mildew–and it also seems really odd to me in such a dry summer! But I think at this point all you can do is cut off and dispose of all the peony foliage–then nothing will overwinter and next year they have just the usual chance of getting mildew. You could always spray them with something when they come up next spring, but until then just removing the foliage is about all you can do (and will most likely take care of the problem). :)

  4. Dina says:

    So excited that this was the topic as I was going to ask you what I should be doing. What advice do you have on prunning shrubs that have gotten too big? Should I do it now or in the spring? I also have roses, I always cover them in winter (they are my diva’s) and I usually prune them down (partly to fit the cover on) I’ve recently heard that it’s best to prune in spring, just remove the leaves for winter. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks so much Sandi!!

    • Sandi says:

      I don’t do roses at all, so I’m afraid I can’t give you any advice on those. :)

      As far as other shrubs, though, they can be pruned fall or spring, but depending on whether they bloom or not, you might want to prune based on bloom-time. (They CAN be pruned any time, but you might sacrifice the blooms for that year, depending on the timing.)

      So, basically, for blooming shrubs, just prune them right after they are finished blooming. For instance, you can prune lilacs right now, but you’d be cutting off the buds they would bloom with in the spring.

      Does that make sense? If you’re going to prune them back hard, you might want to wait until they’re dormant in a few weeks. Otherwise sometimes they can put out a flush of new growth, which would weaken them for overwintering.

      Hope this all makes sense–just let me know if anything is unclear. :)

      • molly says:

        You are absolutely right on the lilacs! I prune mine of the dead wood in the early spring. Technically, a 1/3 is supposed to be pruned every year, but I don’t follow that and I think my MIL would kill me if I did as the bushes are over 50 years old and huge!

        Now for the roses. You can prune roses anytime. Traditionally they are pruned back on Presidents Day, but I snip mine off to about 2 ft off the ground after we get a really good hard freeze and the weather stays cool so they don’t send out new shoots. I also only cover the crown with mulch, not the whole plant. But thats the difference between WA (seldom below zero) and MN. Its then that I also remove canes that cross, died or have rose borers.

  5. Carol HEgel Lang says:

    Any of you have problems with aster yellow on your coneflowers this past growing season? My old purple coneflowers were fine but the newer varieties suffered from it. After reading the advice on numerous websites I did as they suggested and dug them all out. A local garden center told me that they had seen it also on some of the newer varieties of petunia, carrots and wehat out in Oregon. What a treagdey it will be if we cannot keep growing coneflowers for the birds, bees and butterflies.

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