Thursday, August 18, 2022
Aug. 18, 2022

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Gardening With Allen: Put the garden to bed for winter


I just moved here and bought a home with lots of perennial flowers and shrubs I am not familiar with. Do I need to cut back the perennials? Do I need to dig the dahlia and gladiola bulbs? What other preparations do I need to make for my lawn, etc.?

It sounds like you came from a colder winter climate. I also came from a colder climate 20 years ago. There is much less fall garden preparation here.

Some of the perennial flowers will stay green until it gets much colder. I do not cut them back until the leaves turn brown. Some never turn brown. Those I trim some of the old growth when new growth becomes established in the spring.

Shrubs can be pruned in the fall. Avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs like rhododendrons and azaleas. They already have their flower buds set. The best time to prune them is shortly after they bloom.

Summer flowering plants like roses and hydrangeas are normally pruned in late winter or early spring. I usually cut back hydrangeas by about a third. Hybrid tea and floribunda roses are trimmed to about 2 to 3 feet. Shrub roses are reduced by a foot or two.

Most bulbs do not need to be dug because they do not usually freeze here. However, they may need to be dug to divide and spread them when they become too crowded. This is often the case with dahlias and gladiolas.

Lawns do not turn brown in the winter here. Their growth does slow down enough in December and January that they seldom need to be mowed. I like to fertilize my lawn in the fall so it keeps a nice deep green color. Fertilizer also helps lawns to thicken during the winter. The only time lawns lose their color here is if they are not irrigated during the summer. Leaves should be removed from lawns. A rotary lawn mower will pick up leaves and chop them into smaller pieces, reducing their bulk by two-thirds. Leaves make good mulch for flower and shrub beds.

It is time to turn off the irrigation system and open the valve where it is connected to the water main so the water can drain. If water is trapped in the heads, they can freeze. Hoses left outside will be damaged by repeated freezing and thawing. Drain and roll up hoses and store them inside.

A lot of my fall preparation revolves around tools and equipment. I clean and oil my hand tools to prevent rust and cracking handles. I keep my hula hoe handy for winter weeds. Their growth is slower in winter but they never seem to stop growing. It is a good idea to drain fuel from power equipment engines and run them until all fuel is burned in the carburetors. Fuel tends to get sticky and gum up the works when stored too long without use.

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