University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
FALL IN YOUR LANDSCAPE
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
as you make sure your car is ready for winter this time of year, so
make sure your landscape is ready.
by cleaning up the debris in your garden, removing dead foliage as
well as the
stakes and row markers. Cut back dead growth on your perennials.
These are all measures that not only get your
garden and flower beds ready for planting and new growth next
spring, but also they
prevent overwintering pests and diseases on rotting foliage. Be sure
out or burn any diseased foliage. Don't put it into the compost
you raked those fallen leaves yet? The grass is still green
underneath and can
use all the light possible to prepare for winter. Removing leaves
water and air to get to the living plants, preventing them from
For this reason leaves, especially tough ones that pack down and rot
not make good mulch for perennials and should be raked off perennial
too late to divide perennials, but you can cut them back in late
fall. This allows time for birds to get seedheads,
for any nutrition to recycle back to the roots from the leaves, and
for you to
enjoy the fall effect of many perennials.
Of course if they’re diseased or have died back, like many
you can cut them back sooner. Cut most
perennials back leaving 2 to 6-inches of growth near the base. Cut
ornamental grasses back a bit higher, so
not to cut off any growing points for the following year.
can divide peonies, though, if needed.
If sited properly with plenty of space, peonies
may not need dividing for many years or even
decades. But, if they are too large or
crowded or you just need to move them, fall is the time. Cut back
leaves (usually not very attractive
anyway by fall) to just above the ground.
When plants are dug, you can divide with knife, pruners, or sharp
tool. Make sure each division has at
least 3 growing points or buds on the roots called “eyes”—these are
obvious. Then, make sure not to plant
more than 2 inches below ground, and don’t cover with mulch.
until late winter or spring to prune woody plants if possible, as
doing so now
will leave open wounds that won’t heal quickly, allowing diseases
the chance to
enter. Of course you can prune any dead,
diseased, or broken branches.
shrubs, trees, and perennial beds with a loose organic material such
mulch. Do it now, and you will have one less job to worry about in
Mulches also help protect roots during winter from cold and
fluctuating temperatures. Don't mulch too thickly--no more than a
inches--around woody trees and shrubs as the mulch makes a nice home
which chew bark. If packed around tree trunks too thick, mulch can
tree and cause it to die, so keep it a few inches away from tree
to mulching you may want to spread some compost around woody plants,
so it can
work into and enrich the soil over the winter—another less task to
spring, particularly if you’ll then need to remove the mulch first.
topdress an inch or two of compost around your perennials, more
after they’re cut back.
project for this fall, so you won’t need to worry with it during the
spring planting season, is edging beds.
There are edging tools just for this, manual as well as electric, or
can simply use a spade and hoe to make clean edges and keep the
you protected your evergreens from drying winter winds? In colder
roots of evergreens are frozen and unable to take up water. Winter
winds may “desiccate”
them out, eventually causing them to die. This is why
leaves turn brown-- from lack of water.
Protect your evergreens by putting up a screen on the windy sides,
usually the north and west. This can be as simple as erecting three
stakes and wrapping burlap around them. Don't cover the plants
with plastic. It will heat up like a greenhouse on sunny days and
evergreens like the Alberta spruce, place burlap screens on the
southern sides. Otherwise bright winter
sun will rapidly heat the frozen needles, causing them to die and
you can spray evergreens with an antidessicant available from your
center. This provides a protective layer on the leaves
that will wear off by spring, keeping them from losing of
“transpiring” so much
water over winter. Some years this may work or not, depending on
conditions and climate that year. Research results are mixed on
or not antidessicants are effective.
If you have deer nearby, you may
want to stock up and spray a repellent on desirable woody plants.
If deer pressure isn’t high, simply hanging
bars of smelly soap near plants may work.
But don’t hang them directly on plants, as the dissolving soap on
will attract mice feeding. If you have
lots of deer or very hungry ones with few other food sources, you
may have to
resort to electric or high mesh fencing.
If just a plant or two, you can erect a simple triangular mesh fence
around each, about 6ft high and foot or so away from the plants.
Did you have “tender” summer bulbs
such as gladiolus and dahlias? If so,
dig the dahlia tubers right after tops have been killed with a hard
frost. Gladiolus can be left in the ground until
tops yellow and start dying back. Once
the gladiolus corms have been dug and are fully dry, store in a
paper bag or
similar. Don’t let dahlia tubers dry
more than a day or two, as they’ll begin to shrivel. Store them in
slightly moist (but not too
wet, or they’ll rot) materials such as peat moss or wood
shavings. Dry both of these summer bulbs
out of direct sun, in a slightly warm, airy location. Store both in
a cool, but non-freezing,
As long as the grass is growing,
mow. For me this is usually
mid-October. While you want to mow
higher (3-inches) during the growing season, lower this to about 2
your last mowing. This discourages any mice and rodents from
living there, as well as less chance of disease in spring
mold”) from matted-down grass.
If you label your plants, make sure labels are
still intact and legible. I like to make an inventory, too, of my
and put on a simple computer spreadsheet during the winter. This
way you can recall what plants you
have—particularly important if you have many, and when you come to
so you don’t get duplicates.
If you have lots of different
cultivars of a perennial, such as many different daffodils, hostas,
you might want to make a map. Invariably labels come out during
winter, or even
through the season with plant maintenance, and get all mixed
up—something a map
can help you keep straight.
Don’t forget in fall to walk around
and just enjoy your landscape, with notepad in hand. Make any notes
on changes for the coming
year, either design or plants or culture, while these thoughts are