Stop ‘Putting the Garden to Bed’

As autumn approaches in and our summer blooms are faded it can be tempting to start tidying the garden. You may have heard the term ‘putting the garden to bed.’ It’s a traditional – perhaps old-fashioned – term used to tidy up the garden before the winter months ahead. Quite frankly, it’s a term we despise. Among many homeowners, there is this incessant need to prune everything and not leave any browned stems. With this need comes the loss of the autumn garden.

Evergreen shrubs of course have their place, but they are not the complete answer to the autumn and winter garden. Blessed with seasonal change in this country, colour transitioning of deciduous and perennial planting should be embraced until the new growing season arrives.

Why You Should Leave Out of Season Perennials Until Spring If you’re not particularly green-fingered, then ditching the autumn prune is probably music to your ears!

Designers such as Piet Oudolf, encourage us to appreciate the full lifecycle of a perennial plant, including its demise in autumn and winter. Perennials such as Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Phlomis and grasses such as Miscanthus, Stipa and Calamagrostis all provide autumn structure in the garden despite them not technically being in flower. The burnished brown stems and hardened seedhead are synonymous with autumn and should be left through the winter to fall background to the crisp frosts and maintain height in the garden.

Structural perennials continue to hold their form, yet it is still advised to prune back any soft or mush perennials which as they rot can leave a mess and harbour disease.

There are many benefits for wildlife also by putting away your secateurs. Flower seeds are an important source of food for birds, and the structure of the stems and seed heads provide habitats for many overwintering insects.

Come spring as the frosts become less frequent and the soil warms, venture out to cut back those grasses and perennials which have given you a full year of interest. Cut back browned growth to around an inch above the ground, or just above emerging fresh growth.

Not persuaded to ditch the autumn prune? Try it just one year or cut back those perennials which really bother you and keep those you can appreciate. You will be amazed at how different it makes your autumn and winter garden feel compared to cutting everything back. And the wildlife will thank you too.

Autumn Gardens

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