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Prepare winter garden

 Obsessed gardeners will spend as much time caring for the health of their plants as they do enjoying the blooms and food gardens produce. Each season brings with it a list of chores that promote good plant health. In the fall, perennial beds and borders should be cleaned up after plants stop growing for the season. This will remove insects, their eggs and any disease organisms that may over-winter on fallen leaves.

There are several schools of thought on how to care for perennial beds in the fall. For those who like their beds to be well-made, cutting back the foliage once it is dead gives it a neat, tidy appearance throughout the winter. Others subscribe to the “heck-with-it” philosophy of leaving all the plants in place, frozen into a winter tableau of browned leaves, spent seed heads and crisp flowers.

Both have their strengths and drawbacks – cutting some perennials back will open up stems to drying winds of our winters and accelerate winter-kill. However, leaving dead, decomposing plants in the garden may increase the risk of splashing or blowing fungal spores and other diseases.

How to achieve balance?

After perennial foliage dies down to the ground, you can remove it, though you might want to leave ornamental grasses and seed heads of Rudbeckia, Echinacea, or poppies until late winter for the texture they provide in the landscape and to provide food for birds in the winter. One note of caution — leave only the healthy ones to stand. If they are diseased, remove them and throw them out. Birds may appreciate a nice seed snack, but nobody, bird or human alike, appreciates a disease filled meal.

Leaving your plant clean-up until spring also allows the plant to capture more snow, funneling moisture to the soil. Snow, along with mulch, gathered at the base of plants sitting close to each other in a winter garden also gives them some added protection from wind. After the ground freezes, apply mulch to stabilize soil temperature and prevent alternate freezing and thawing of soil, which can lift crowns above soil levels.

In Colorado, roses do not have to be capped for winter protection, and, due to our intense, sunny days, capping is discouraged. The best protection for roses against winter kill, particularly for the hybrid teas and grandifloras, is to mulch over the bud union and lower portion of the canes to a height of 6 to 8 inches with loose soil, leaves or similar material. This protection is particularly important in late winter and early spring to protect the vital parts of the plants from extreme changes in temperatures.

To protect tender summer-flowering bulbs and corms in winter, plan on digging them up before the foliage has died back completely in fall. Gladiolas, cannas, and dahlias need to be lifted and stored in a cool location over winter. Dig carefully to avoid injuring corms since wounds are often entry points for disease organisms. Remove and destroy plant tops immediately.

For information on storing bulbs over the winter, please contact the Cooperative Extension office.

Master Gardener applications due

Our Colorado Master Gardener program in Boulder County is currently taking applications for the spring Master Gardener class. If you would like to help educate gardeners in our community, join the Colorado Master Gardener team. In addition to helping the community by answering questions on garden care, volunteers teach classes, write news articles, work with special audiences and maintain demonstration sites.

If you are interested in helping others, the Colorado Master Gardener program is for you. Classes run January through March from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday. Please contact the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office in Boulder County at 303-678-6238 to receive an application.

For more information on a variety of horticulture topics, visit or call (888) 666-3063. Planttalk Colorado is a free service of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver Botanic Gardens and the Green Industries of Colorado.

Carol O’Meara is with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information, about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Cooperative Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303-678- 6238, or visit boulder.

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