In the Garden:
Lower South
February, 2009
Regional Report

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These ornamental grasses have been pruned back and mulched to prepare the bed for spring.

Late Winter Perennial Cleanup

Late winter is perennial clean up time around our place. I love perennials, for one thing because they offer many years of return on your gardening dollar. However to keep them looking their best a little sprucing up here and there are in order.

Those flowering perennials that were killed back by a freeze this winter need cutting back to remove the old dead topgrowth. Gingers, cannas, non-evergreen ferns, lantana, and others are in this group. We cut them back to a couple of inches above the ground.

There there are those perennials that are not sure just how hardy they are in our area. That is to say that most years their tops die back to near the soil line but after mild winters some above ground parts make it through. Examples for my area include yellow bells (Tecoma stans), Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherima), and plumbago. These may be cut back to living tissues, but I usually just cut them on back to near the base. They come back just fine and usually end up looking better anyway.

Ornamental grasses need cutting back too. They can be left untrimmed and will come out in spring but the old dead leaves in the clump end up detracting from the overall appearance. Trimming them is not an easy task and sharp pruners along with some patience are required. I cut them back to about 10 inches high leaving a stubby mound of shoots. In nature fire periodically burn off the old dead growth in the meadows but most communities are not fond of gardeners going back to nature in this way!

Evergreen perennials such as cast iron plant and liriope can get to looking pretty ragged by the end of winter. Try trimming them back to near the ground line and they will return in spring with fresh new growth and look, in the words of my daughter, "tons better!"

After pruning perennials back you may want to divide some to make more plants. There are many ways to divide perennials depending on the type so check into how your particular plants are best divided. This enables you to plant the divisions elsewhere in the landscape or pot them up for gifts to friends and family.

All the growth that is trimmed away should not be put in the trash. Place it in the compost pile after running over it with a mower or cutting it up into smaller pieces with pruning shears. I generally use my trimmings as pathway materials and then cover them with leaves for a more aesthetically pleasing look.

The final step around our place is to sprinkle a little fertilizer around the perennials and then mulch the area well to prepare for spring and summer. The warm season weeds will be germinating soon in the Lower South and mulch can save a lot of work later by deterring these would be invaders. Mulch also protects the soil, helps hold moisture and looks great to boot!


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