As the Fall sets in and perennials start to die back, the temptation to trim that ‘ugly’ death matter down to the ground can send us searching for the pruners. But WAIT! There are many reasons you may want to wait until late Winter to remove what you perceive to be unacceptable appearances.
First of all, if you have perennials with an abundance of seeds that will quickly take over in the Spring, by all means take those off and give them to some unsuspecting friend – or better – enemy! Seriously, for those perennials who love to multiply, move those seeds to the trash. They may survive in a compost bin so be very careful if you choose to compost. Also, if you have diseased plant material, move that out as well. Many diseases and critter infestations can survive a winter, so that needs to be trashed as well.
But for otherwise healthy perennials, please consider the following reasons why you might want to leave them in place.
- Free bird seed – Flower heads from many perennials are a great source of food for our feathered friends! Echinacea, Sunflowers and many ornamental grasses can sustain many birds over the cold months! Let them eat seeds!
- Winter Interest – yes, some of these plants actually can add beauty to the landscape over the Winter! Many of the ornamental grasses in particular are very showing in the otherwise desolate chilly garden! And you can get some really cool pictures when we get those dreaded ice storms!
- Butterflies – Yes, even in the Winter months, we need to be thinking of the fluttering beauties. Many lay their eggs on perennials or can even have cocoons over winter on dead foliage and branches. If you remove them to the compost heap, they likely won’t survive!
- Mulch – Yes, the dead matter of the plants can actually help provide the much needed mulch for both moisture retention and temperature fluctuations.
So this is one time it may actually be best to procrastinate on some of those gardening chores! Your plants, the birds and butterflies may just thank you!