Winter Garden Preparation, Part Two: Buttoning Up Beds & Borders …

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ Tufts Play Against the Blazing, Sunlit Red of Cornus alba ‘Siberica’

November is always a busy month in my garden, and this year —with various weather and health set-backs— has been particularly challenging. If you regularly follow this journal, you’ve probably noticed that my entries have been a bit less-frequent. I’ve been feeling a bit under-the-weather lately, and although on the mend, I’m still struggling to keep up with end-of-season chores. Fortunately, Mother Nature has been a bit kinder of late, and New England is experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures –just what I need to play catch-up.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been cutting back unsightly perennials (with hand-shears or string-trimmer in larger beds), edging the long border where it meets the lawn (learn more about edging by clicking here) putting in the last of the bulbs, wrapping delicate trees to protect them from rodents (click here for post), gathering boughs, berries and branches for holiday decorating, and stacking wood. This is a big garden and there’s always something to do …

I take a great deal of pleasure in the subtle beauty of winter’s tawny tones and textures, so I prefer to leave much of my garden standing throughout the coming season

However, some parts of the garden are “put to bed”. Perennials in the long border here were cut back for bulb planting, and the lawn was mown one final time before edging and mulching with compost

Gathering leaves and garden debris for compost (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’)

Many gardeners like to “put the garden to bed” by cutting back all perennials after a few hard frosts, raking up the debris and mulching borders with chopped leaves, bark or evergreen boughs. Such tidiness has an undeniable appeal —particularly in formal landscapes— but there are as many ways to garden as there are gardeners. Some choose a more naturalistic approach to maintenance, leaving everything in the landscape standing ‘as-is’ throughout the winter, opting instead for a big clean up in early spring. Gardens filled with cold-hardy perennials and low-maintenance shrubs can easily survive and thrive without extra attention, and in these cases, fall clean-up is a matter of personal preference. In my years as a professional gardener, I tended high-maintenance, low-maintenance, formal and naturalistic gardens as well as everything in between.

I prefer to leave ornamental grass standing throughout the winter, however this year’s early snowstorm knocked back a few specimens. No matter, they look just as beautiful displayed in urns, scattered about my studio

Here at home, my personal approach to winter preparations is somewhere in the middle. I’ve planted mostly native and cold-hardy plants with season-spanning interest in my garden, so I leave the vast majority of my perennials standing throughout the winter months. Texture plays an important role in my garden designs, and I love watching frost, snow and ice crystals sparkling on remnant seed pods, tufts and tassels. In addition, many of the wildflowers in my garden —including Rudbeckia, Echinacea and Coreopsis— provide food for over-wintering birds, so I avoid cutting them back for this reason as well. But there are some plants — like hosta— that look best cut all the way back. An extra blanket of protection is useful to prevent frost-heaving of recently planted perennials, and though I’ve never been a big fan of heavy bark mulch in my perennial borders, I do apply a thick layer of well-rotted compost and chopped leaves to my garden every fall. And of course there are certain parts of my landscape —particularly the Secret Garden, which contains a number of delicate trees and marginally hardy plants— that require quite a bit more pre-winter prep. In those spaces, tree trunks are wrapped with wire cylinders, and tender plants are mulched with compost and evergreen boughs for a long winter’s nap …

The front entry garden remains as-is throughout the winter months

Situated at the edge of a stonewall, this Japanese maple is a prime target for gnawing rodents living next door. Every fall, I carefully wrap the trunks of vulnerable trees and shrubs in wire mesh cylinders. I made mine from leftover metal lath (used in construction of my studio), but fine chicken wire also works well. The base of the cylinder is slightly wider than the top, and the height should be at least 2′. Read more about how to create tree protectors in my previous post —click here.

Winter is a long season here in Vermont, and I look forward to spotting tiny birds visiting my frosty garden. I leave many perennials standing, both for their textural beauty, and importance to wildlife

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3 Replies to “Winter Garden Preparation, Part Two: Buttoning Up Beds & Borders …”

  1. Laurrie

    I love the soft moodiness of your garden at this time of year.

    I also like to leave seedheads and grasses, and winter is a favorite visual time for me. But the October snowstorm did such damage this year that all was flattened — not just knocked awry or pushed down, but kaput. So all the grasses and most of the seed stalks got cut down and offered to the wildlife in bundles in the compost pile. I’ll have little winter interest this year!

  2. Elin

    So glad to see that you are up and about and gardening and blogging again. I am amazed – and delighted – to see all the beautiful colors still alive in your gardens. Really stunning. Take care of yourself. xo E

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hi Michaela, Thanks for the rodent screen from lathe idea. I’ve been using 1/4″ hardware cloth, but didn’t really like how hard on the hands it was to cut (‘way too stiff).
    LOVING your soft-focus, misty Bloodgood and lightly snowy stone step photos… So lovely as always: )
    (Oh, and to me, the only good mouse is one that’s feeding a larger animal; )
    xo D.

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