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November 15, 2023

New Life For Dead Plants

Flowers are pretty to look at and fragrant to smell. However, when they’ve finished their job of attracting pollinators and dropping their seeds, we’re quick to cut off the spent flowers, stems and leaves. If you haven’t cut them already, may I suggest that you leave them standing for the winter?

One of the main reasons we plant ornamental grasses in landscapes is to peek up through the snow and provide winter interest. Whether grasses are standing still or their seedheads are waving in the breeze, their tan or gray color is a welcome visual relief from the sea of white that winter can thrust upon us.

You can plant only so much ornamental grass before it begins to look boring. Supplementing it with long stem flowering plants like coneflowers and Black Eyed Susans can continue to provide pleasure long after their natural functions have ceased.

If this winter is anything like the last one, you can leave lower growing perennials for the winter as well. Hosta is the first such plant that comes to mind. But the only palette limit to winter retention is your imagination. If we have a low-snow winter, you’ll appreciate being able to look out the window and see color rather than bare ground, or even mulch.

The one downside of this idea is that you’re putting off the inevitable. You’ll have to cut the perennials in the spring. This is necessary to let new plants grow in their place to repeat the colorful display next season. Look at it as a small price to pay for an extra season of enjoyment.

Next spring, you can trim the spent flower stems and leaves at the same time you do the ornamental grass. Although you’ll only be putting off the trimming, you’ll save time and effort on the disposal of debris. Instead of two separate debris disposals in two different seasons, combining the trimming in spring will result in just one disposal in one season.

The trimmings next spring will make good compost, unless any of the plants have signs of insect or disease activity. Contaminated plants should go in the trash. If your community offers landscape waste pickup, check on the date your neighborhood is scheduled for pick up. Plan your trimming as close to the pickup as possible so you don’t have the debris decomposing at the curb for weeks.

Trimming spent perennials and ornamental grass is an easy DIY job. For the perennials, loppers or pruners work best. The tool of choice for trimming ornamental grass is a matter of choice.  Some people use loppers or pruners. Some even use chainsaws but you had better wear Kevlar chaps or pants to protect your legs against kickback. My tool of choice is hedge clippers.

If you’d prefer to enjoy your grasses and perennials this winter and have them disappear in the spring, our landscape professionals would be happy to do the trimming and disposal for you next spring.