Cutting Back Perennials

Irises can be cut back in the fall

Irises can be cut back in the fall

If you are still looking to work on your garden even after your final cleanup, you could try cutting back perennials. Many of them can be pruned either in fall or spring. This can help your landscape look more attractive if the leaves are dead and drooping. It can also keep the plant healthier since some pests and diseases tend to attack the plant or use it as a cozy home until winter is over.

First, you need to determine if you should be cutting back each perennial in fall or spring. If you have one with attractive fruit or foliage, you will likely want to leave it alone to keep the four season interest going. If it has seedheads present, these will help visiting wildlife survive through the winter. 

If you do decide that you need to do some pruning, Cornell University says to “cut back most perennials to about 3 inches from the ground. Any closer may damage crowns.” Use a sharp pair of hand pruners or loppers to trim away. Clean up all of the foliage that you remove to discourage diseases and pests.

Examples of Perennials to Cut Back in Fall:

  • Bearded iris
  • Bee balm
  • Brunnera
  • Daylily
  • Peony
  • Phlox
  • Siberian iris
  • Veronica

Examples of Perennials to Cut Back in Spring:

  • Bishop’s hat
  • Dianthus
  • European ginger
  • Fern
  • Hardy geranium
  • Hellebore
  • Heuchera
  • Lenten rose
  • Moss phlox
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Some sedums

Are you cutting back perennials in fall or spring? What has worked best in your garden?

Image by Vanessa Myers

Tune Up Your Sprinkler System for Fall


Your grass may have needed extra water throughout the summer to help it combat heat and drought. As fall approaches, though, it is time to adjust your sprinkler system for the last few months of the growing season.

In autumn, the temperatures start falling. Rainstorms start happening more frequently. With these changes in the weather, it makes sense that you will need to irrigate less. You especially want to make sure that you do not stimulate excessive new growth as it may be damaged from early frosts. You do not want to completely stop watering yet, though. Your plants are busy storing up reserves before they go dormant and need a moderate amount of irrigation.

Consider installing a rain sensor in your sprinkler system as this is designed to override your scheduled sessions should it start to rain. This will save your lawn from being over-watered (keeping it healthier and saving you money) and conserve in the landscape to boot. These days they range from simple electric devices to high tech systems with Wi-Fi capability.

Near the end of autumn, you also want to start winterizing your system so that the pipes will not burst. This is a process where you remove all liquids from the system before the frosts get into full swing. After water is drained out, an air compressor is used to blow out any remaining moisture. Call us to get help in making sure that your system is properly winterized and avoid costly damage.

When do you start winterizing your sprinkler system?
Image by mikecogh under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Aeration and Seeding

This is the BEST TIME to give your lawn a chance to thicken up!!!!

You’ve heard me ranting about Fall Lawn Care for years….so here it comes again.  Following a summer of heat, mowing and foot traffic, lawn soils may become compacted and end up in desperate need of help during the fall.  Aeration can provide just the pick me up that your lawn needs.  

Core Aeration Machine

Core Aeration Machine

Your lawn should be aerated regularly – as often as once every year.  Ideally, your soil should be made up of 50% solids, 25% water and 25% air.  When it becomes compacted, there is little room for the air or water.  So if you know you have a dense heavy soil like clay, or you  can see water pooling up or running off the lawn, chances are that you need aeration.

Aeration also reduces the amount of thatch buildup on your lawn by helping it to decompose more quickly.  Thatch is the dead material that builds up between the blades of grass on your lawn and the soil.  When thatch accumulates to more than 1/2″, it causes problems.  

The best time to aerate is when the grass is actively growing.  Fall is best for cool season grasses because turf roots grow more in the fall than any other time of year.  

Right after aeration is an idea time to overseed your lawn.   With the soil opened up the seed can make good soil contact which is critical for seeding success.  With still-warm soil and cooler fall weather, new seedlings can germinate and get established during this root-building period of the year.  Starter fertilizer and plenty of water (when it doesn’t rain) will speed up establishment for a much thicker lawn next season.

Aeration works with fall fertilization and watering to thicken the lawn and build up good food reserves in the roots through the fall months.  So plan on aeration for a healthier lawn this fall and thicker, greener turf next year!

Have Three Seasons of Floral Beauty

Did you ever consider having three full seasons of color on your property? You can, and it’s fairly easy! By using early to late bulbs in spring, annuals in the summer and mums in Pansy_Atlas_Mixthe fall- plus your flowering trees and shrubs- you’ll have non-stop color almost year-round. Here are a few tips that may make your personal “flower show” more successful.

There are two basic ways to plan floral displays. You can go for the maximum visual impact or “wow appeal” by having a few massive beds of one or two types of flowers. The challenge with this approach is that in trying to keep the gardens fresh, you need to eliminate the spring bulbs before planting the summer annuals. And then do the same again in the fall when the chrysanthemums are ready to become your focal point. This process is more work and can be more expense, but you can really knock the socks off your guests and neighbors with massive flows of color.

The second basic approach is to plant your flowers in a border-type bed of mixed types of mixed_bulb_flowers_1plants. With this approach, you will mix all of the different kinds of flowers through the season, so that as your bulb foliage dies down your annuals begin to thrive and help cover the browning bulb leaves. Many gardeners find this approach more enjoyable for the variety it delivers year round. And you can include small shrubs and perennials as well. Planning a great mixed garden takes careful planning with consideration of blooming times and height of the different plants chosen.

The hardest part of creating a floral show comes first- improving the soil. As with all kinds of gardens the old saying also holds true for flowerbeds, “for every dime you spend on plants, put ninety cents into the soil.” Incorporate organic materials and lots of it. You can use compost, rotted manure, peat moss or any combination of these. Just be sure it’s mixed in really well and deep.

Once the soil is ready, the fun can begin! In selecting your spring bulbs, the choices are enough to boggle the mind. And since most bulbs bloom either early spring, mid-spring or Unknown-17late spring, you can have a succession of beauty and enjoyment just from the bulbs you select. It’s good to be aware that some bulbs (like daffodils) continue to multiply and stay vigorous from year to year while others (like tulips) tend to dwindle in quantity and quality if not pulled out and separated each year. A great feature of bulbs is that most get planted in the fall, so all winter you can imagine the show you’ll have in the spring.

There is also an abundance of summer annuals from which to choose. Be sure to select annuals that will work well in the amount of sun your garden gets and how well you’ll be able to water during hot, dry periods.

Even though most annuals will keep blooming until cold weather, extending the fall with one more change is exciting. Like all the plants we’ve been talking about mums come in a variety of size, color and texture. The standard garden mum is a good performer almost every year. From rust to deep reds and bright yellows and whites, grouping of three or five plants (or more) add a vast burst of color to an almost-finished season.

The great thing to remember is that you can “jump onboard” during any season and enjoy the wonderful feeling of watching something you’ve planted grow!

Force Bulbs Indoors for an Early Taste of Spring!

Who says you have to wait until spring for the colorful beauty of bulbs? Forcing bulbs to bloom indoors is a fun and easy way to brighten up your home’s interior over the colder months ahead.

Bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses can all be brought into bloom earlier than normal. Since time spans from planting to blooming will differ from bulb to bulb, it’s important not to mix varieties in the same container. Also, only top-quality, good- sized bulbs should be used.



In a plastic or clay pot, plant your bulbs in a mixture of three parts garden loam, two parts peat moss and one part sand, leaving about 1’ of space at the top of the pot. The pointed ends of the bulbs should remain exposed. As a rule of thumb, sex tulips, sex daffodils, three hyacinths or 15 crocuses will fit a 6’ pot.  Water the bulbs immediately after planting, and be sure that the soil stays moist afterward.

Cold Treatment

Once planted, your bulbs will need to be kept in a cool (35 to 48 degrees F), dark location for a minimum of 12 weeks (an unheated cellar works well). Remember to keep soil moist, since developing roots can dry out and die quickly.


As soon as the shoots reach 3’ or 4’ in height, move your pots into bright, indirect light for three or four days. Then, move the pots into direct sunlight until the flowers bloom, at which point they should be moved back to indirect light. You can extend blooming periods by keeping the roots moist and moving the pots to a cool spot at night.


For a continuous supply of flowers, try plating your bulbs at weekly intervals, bringing just a few pots at a time out of cold treatment. Enjoy!

The “Must-do’s” of Fall

       It’s about that time where all those beautiful leaves are resting on your lawn. Should you leave them there? No! It is important that leaves are raked up from your lawn in order to keep it healthy. If you do not, it is possible that mold can grow under those leaves, similar to snow mold. This mold will suffocate and damage your turf. Sure signs of mold are white or grey spots growing throughout your lawn. In addition, thick layers of leaves can also prohibit the growth of your lawn by suffocating it and depriving it of the necessary sunlight needed for growth.

       How else should you prepare your lawn for the current and upcoming weather you ask? Try taking some of these tips:

  • Wondering what to do with those leaves after raking them from your lawn? Consider working them into your garden soil or adding them to your compost pile!
  •  If rainfall is scarce, remember that your lawn will benefit from extra watering this fall. 1″ to 1 1⁄2 ” per week will be very helpful.
  • It’s a good idea to add a layer of mulch to your landscape plantings after the first hard freeze. This will help to keep the soil temperature more consistent through winter for extended root growth.

    Lawn Mold

  • Keep that mower handy! Mowing should continue until your grass has stopped growing for the season.
  • If you have a water garden, you can keep leaves out of it this fall by covering it with netting.


Just by following these few steps your lawn will be sure to thank you with another year of green, lush grass!

Is Your Landscape a Little Too “Endeering?”

Here’s how you can fight back against destructive deer 

Increased deer populations, along with the expansion of suburban areas, means more deer are wandering into our neighborhoods. Not only are deer a definite road hazard, but they can do a lot of damage to landscapes too.

Deer tend to shy away from people, but they will browse through your landscape in search of a meal if their natural woodland food sources become scarce or depleted. Plus, they can damage your trees by rubbing their antlers against the bark.

Deterrents to Try

One approach to discouraging deer is to use plants they don’t like in your landscape (paper birch, common boxwood, American holly, daffodil and English lavender are a few examples). The problem with this approach is that deer will feed on just about any plant if they’re hungry enough.

A more effective approach is to add deer repellents to existing plants. Commercial repellents can easily be found at your local garden or home

Damage from antlers

goods store, or you might consider making your own repellent using simple bar soap. Soap bars hung in trees at about 6’ height have been proven effective, and they last longer if you leave them wrapped. Simply hang them with wire about 3’ to 4’ apart. It doesn’t matter what kind of soap you use, since deer just don’t like the smell.

Barriers can also be constructed to prevent contact with plants. Deer netting can be wrapped around smaller plantings, or it can be combined with wooden stakes to form a fence around larger specimens. If deer activity is especially heavy on your property, you might even consider having a deer-proof fence installed. These are generally made using woven wire and should be at least 8’ tall to prevent deer from jumping over them.


As beautiful as deer may be, having them hang around your landscape just isn’t good. Taking steps to keep them away will be worth the effort! But remember, it is their home too, do not take violent steps to get rid of deer!

A Great Start for New Grass

Whether you’ve had your lawn overseeded, or have opted for a more extensive lawn renovation, proper care after planting is critical to giving your grass the best chances for success. Your newly seeded lawn will benefit from the following this fall:

  • Enough water to keep the top inch of soil moist at all times. Light watering once a day is recommended. Once seedlings appear, you’ll need to keep watering, but not as often (once or twice a week should do the trick).
  • Limited foot traffic. Try to avoid walking on newly seeded areas until the new grass has been established.
  • A balanced starter fertilizer should be applied up to six weeks after the seeding.
  • Mowing at a normal height (removing no more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time) once the new grass is 4” tall.

With a little tender loving care, you’ll be enjoying your beautiful new turf in no time!

Party on the Patio!

As the nights grow cooler this fall, there’s no need to move the party indoors. There are several options for keeping things warm and cozy outside, well into the night.

Patio Heaters

You’re probably most familiar with free- standing patio heaters, which are generally about 8’ tall, though table-top versions are also available. A propane gas tank concealed in the base usually fuels these heaters, but there are also natural gas and electric models depending on your needs and preferences. A good patio heater will enable you to regulate the amount of heat given off. For a reasonable price, you can purchase one that will warm an area 20’ in diameter pretty reliably.

Fire Pits and Fireplaces

There’s something to be said for burning wood outdoors. Cast-iron fire pits with wheels can easily be moved out of the way when not in use, or you can have a pit dug into the ground if you’d like something more permanent. For a more formal look, consider a brick, stone or concrete fireplace with a venting hood, shelves and even storage space for wood. If you do go with a wood-burning option, make sure there is plenty of space between the fire source and the seating for both comfort and safety.

Don’t Forget the Lights!

Regardless of the temperature outside, proper lighting is essential for extending the use of your patio into the nighttime hours. Low-voltage exterior light fixtures can provide ample illumination to help you and your guests move about safely. Plus, the low voltage requirements won’t drive up your electric bill.

“Is Dinner Ready Yet?”

You Can’t Blame your Lawn, Trees and Shrubs for Asking!

It’s hard to overstate how important it is to fertilize your lawn, trees and shrubs, especially during the fall. Most of the plants in your landscape will soon be shifting into dormancy, with top growth slowing down or stopping altogether. Underground, however, they’ll still be very active.

In order to prepare for new growth in the spring, your lawn, trees and shrubs must build new roots and fatten them up with nutrients. You can improve this process by making sure they get a heavy dose of fertilizer in the fall. The stronger and healthier the roots become as a result of proper fall fertilization, the better growth you can expect next year.

Some of the benefits you can expect from fall lawn fertilization include:

  • Grass blades that stay greener and roots that grow later into the season.
  • Better recovery from the stresses of summer heat and drought.
  • Increased ability to hold water, which helps grass plants withstand the drying and browning effects of winter winds.
  • Improves resistance to some cool-weather fungus diseases due to better overall plant health.
  • Thicker green-up in the spring.

By having your trees and shrubs fertilized this fall, you can expect:

  • Improved flowering.
  • Stronger resistance to insects and disease.
  • Better winter color in evergreens.
  • Healthier, denser foliage.
  • An increase in root mass and root branching.

Remember, fall fertilization of your lawn, trees and shrubs will have a direct effect on the performance of your plants throughout next year’s growing season. It’s an essential part of protecting and improving your valuable landscape investment.