Home and Garden
Caring for perennials this winter
In fall, gardeners often start thinking about perennials either because they want to add additional plants to their gardens or because they need to take at least some of them out of their garden beds.
Perennials are plants that don’t die after one season but continue to live year after year. The category actually includes trees, shrubs, lawns, hardy bulbs, some vegetables and houseplants, and a large number of plants that are grown for their ornamental flowers or foliage.
Planting times for vegetables vary depending upon the type of vegetable and the date of the average last killing frost in an area. In Henrico County, the average last killing frost is approximately April 15 so vegetable gardeners can use mid-April as the starting point for deciding when to plant their gardens.
Hardy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and onions can be planted as early as four weeks before the last killing frost, which means these plants can be put into the garden any time now.
Pruning is an important part of maintaining woody plants such as trees and shrubs in your yard, and now is a good time to prune all but the early spring bloomers like azaleas, camellias and forsythia.
“You don’t want to prune off the flower buds,” said Henrico Extension Agent Karen Carter. “You wouldn’t be hurting the plant, but you would be reducing the floral display.”
Many people dread pruning, approaching it as a distasteful chore that they are unsure how to do properly. But effective pruning can pay big benefits in terms of plant health and appearance, and sometimes pruning is necessary either to control plant size or to remove safety hazards.
Nature can be easy to ignore, says Henrico Master Gardener Faye Derkits, especially when a young person has a demanding school and extracurricular schedule and also loves video games, texting, and television.
That’s why Derkits and co-chair Pat Baskind head up a group of about 25 Henrico Master Gardeners who last year taught more than 50 classes on garden topics to children in public, private, and home schools. They also set up activity tables at school fairs, led teacher workshops, and offered activities in school gardens.
Starting plants from seed takes a little work and a lot of attention to detail, but it can be a very rewarding experience.
Just ask Henrico Master Gardener Grace Harrison. Each year she starts about 1,500 plants from seed in her 8’x10’ home greenhouse to share with friends and family, sell at yard sales and plant in her garden.
“I can’t think of anything that’s more exciting than seeing those little plants starting to grow,” said Harrison. “It’s a big
commitment, especially if you’re going to start a lot of plants, but it’s also very satisfying.”
The celebrations and obligations of the holiday season added to an already busy life can make this time of the year hectic and stressful. A few moments each day watching birds at a backyard birdfeeder often provide an interesting and entertaining break that most people find they want to keep in their life long after the holidays have ended.
Now is an excellent time to start feeding the birds according to John Coe, Henrico Master Gardener and president of the Virginia Audubon Council. “We’re just now seeing an influx of the birds that winter here,” he said.
One of the favorite family traditions of the holidays is selecting a live Christmas tree and putting it up at home.
“To me, it’s the fragrance,” said Henrico Extension Agent Lisa Sanderson. “When you put a live tree in your home, it just smells like the holidays.”
Live Christmas trees can be purchased from a number of different sources including nurseries and garden centers and by mail-order, but the most popular are retail lots and choose-and-cut farms.
Now that the first frost has occurred and the garden has started dying back, it’s time to start planting!
“Planting now gives trees and shrubs and spring-flowering perennials a jump on the game,” said Henrico Extension Agent Lisa Sanderson.
“Your plants have the opportunity to get established before the heat and stress of late spring and summer.”
Sanderson says that even though the plants are dormant during the winter, roots continue to grow, producing a more robust plant in the spring that is better able to withstand heat and drought.
Master Gardeners staffing the Horticulture Helpline at the Henrico Extension Office (501-5160) say they’re getting a lot of questions about fall lawn care. The most common question: “Is it too late to do anything about my lawn now?”
“No,” said Teddy Martin, Horticulture Technician with the Extension Service and coordinator of the SMARTLawns program. “Fall is the time of year to work on lawns.”
“The starting point really is in September,” said Martin. “But you can get a late start and still have a nice lawn.”
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