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Plants for Winter Interest by Ruth Clausen

Category: Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

This year it was Thanksgiving weekend before I had a chance to start tidying up in my garden. I’m not exactly a “neatnik” but I do like it to look nice and garden hygiene is important too. Be careful to clean up any dropped leaves beneath roses for fear of spreading black spot spores when the spring rains come next year. The  spores overwinter in organic mulch (I like to remove the mulch) and will be splashed up onto new growth and re-infect the bushes. Spent annuals go on the compost pile, but there are a couple of schools of thought about cutting back perennials. Some like to cut everything down, cover the beds with a good layer of compost or shredded leaves, and head out of town for the winter. Those of us who stay put through the winter need a pleasing view all year.

Conservatory Garden, New York City
Conservatory Garden, New York City

I took a walk in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, New York City, to see how they handled the problem. Some cut and some left there as well. Ornamental grasses of course are dramatic against autumn leaves (purple smoke bush here with Miscanthus grass), and even more so in front of evergreens as the winter progresses. 

Others that I leave include rusty colored tall sedums such as ‘Autumn Joy’, ‘Garnet Brocade’ and ‘Frosty Morn’, purple coneflowers, black- and brown-eyed Susans, perennial sunflowers, Russian sage and all silvery-leaved shrubs (Caryopteris, butterfly bush, common sage etc.). Not only do these provide winter interest, they become popular feeding stations for resident birds that add so much to the winter garden.

Spore cases of ferns are also decorative, although some remove them for neatness. Here sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) adds height and texture to a bed of Helleborus hybrids that will bloom next spring.  

Sensitive Fern Spores in my garden
Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) adds height and texture to a bed of Helleborus

In my garden, I leave the dried spore cases of ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)  too under a canopy of Euonymus branches.


One thought on “Plants for Winter Interest by Ruth Clausen

  1. Carolyn Summers says:

    This is really useful, timely information. I have also had problems with tiarella and heaucheras heaving out of the ground in wintertime. Thanks!

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