Fall Perennial Care

The fall season is an exciting time of year for many. We look forward to a change of weather. The forecast is showing overnight temps beginning to dip into the upper 30s at night. This is causing many plants to begin to exhibit their fall color. Maple trees are beginning to turn rich shades of red and yellow. Ash trees are beginning to turn a rich golden yellow. Other trees are beginning to change as well. There are some perennial plants that are finally going after opening their fall blooms. Plants like Asters and Sedum that are terrific choices for fall blooms are starting to color up and look fantastic in yards all over the landscape.

Many people often ask me, “When should I cut my perennials back for winter?”  The answer I usually give them is “once they have begun losing their leaves.” Several weeks ago, when the day lengths began to change, plants began to start to store any energy they had from the leaves, down toward the roots for winter. There they will keep the energy until spring when they wake up again. The color that you are seeing many of these beautiful leaves turn, was there all summer long believe it or not. It was just masked or covered up by the rich green chlorophyll pigment that helped the plant produce the food it needed for the roots. For that reason, I like to leave the plants alone as much as possible and let them take in all the nutrients they can from those leaves before I cut them off.  Once we experience a really hard frost (around the mid 20s Fahrenheit) most plants will begin to just drop their leaves whether they have taken what they can or not. At that time it is safe to do any cleaning up of peonies, daylilies, asters and all plants that will come new from the root next spring.  It is also still a great time to be planting fall bulbs.

Many are excited at the first signs of spring when they see crocuses, tulips, daffodils and other plants showing their early-season flowers. We get many coming in looking for those plants during the months of April and early May. “Should have planted them last fall,” I tell people.  Fall is the best time to be planting bulbs. Bulbs are used to a short “summer” season and are native to mountainous alpine regions where snow disappears to the bright sun but for a very short time.  

Soon the snow is back. This means bulbs have to work fast! They jump to work coming up quickly and throwing out their blooms to catch the insect activity for pollination.  It isn’t long after that when many bulbs’ foliage will begin to yellow and die. The plant is not dead. It is doing what it was designed to do.  It is already preparing to go back to sleep. As the leaves yellow and turn brown they can be removed but it is generally best to let the plant go to sleep on its own, rather than cut off all the leaves at once.

Tulips, crocuses, and daffodils are a great way to add early spring color to your landscape when many other plants are still asleep.  It is important to consider how many bulbs of each to plant in their space. Many see pictures of fields of blooming tulips and so they buy a few, like three. They take them home and are saddened at the sight next spring when the area looks sparse.  

For best results, it is usually ideal to plant tulips and daffodils at a quantity of at least four to six bulbs per square foot. This gives you the dense look that you saw in the picture. Smaller bulbs like crocuses and grape hyacinth should be planted as many as 12 bulbs per square foot. Research should be done to find out the best spacing for bulbs as you plant them. We’re always here to help with gardening advice. Drop us a line on Facebook, contact us on our website, or just pick up the phone and call us. We’re happy to help you make your yard “one you’ll love to come home to!” Enjoy the fall season!



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