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How to winter-over your perennial plants

So, the beginning gardener may not even consider maintenance on a perennial plant. You just leave them alone, and they come back every year, right? Well . . . sort of. Some will. However, there are plants with “bulbs”, you have to worry about. This was incredibly intimidating to me, so I thought it may be to some of you, as well. So, I did some research – now for the breakdown.

What to do when this:



Turns into this:

winter garden


First of all – what is a perennial? Well – there are three classifications of plants. You have annuals, which complete their entire life cycle in one season, then die. You have biennials, which take two seasons to die, and then you have perennials, which will come back year after year. Although, interesting side note – there are a few plants which, if planted in a warm enough location, will actually act as annuals instead of perennials – like the Black-Eyed Susan. But, those are not the plants we’ll discuss.

End-of season perennial care: Depending on your type of perennial, you may want to just leave the plant over the winter. This is the easiest type of care, isn’t it?! Hah! So there are a few benefits to this – you won’t accidentally dig up your perennial, for instance *cough cough*. Also, it provides some ground cover for any local wildlife which may run around in the winter. If, however, you don’t like the sight of dead plants in the winter, and I don’t particularly blame you, then when you trim the plants, make sure you leave a couple inches of foliage above the ground, just in case next year’s buds are above ground, not below. Also, make sure you wait until there have been a few really good frosts so you don’t damage living tissue.

Depending on where you live, if you get quite a bit of snow, you really won’t have to do much to your perennials to ensure they survive the winter. If, however, you live somewhere very cold without much snow in the winter, you may consider a 2-3 inch mulch layer to protect the perennials from freezing.

Bulbs: These are the ones I was intimidated by. There are several plants which grow from bulbs, such as Dahlias, Crocus, and Begonias (insert Sublime song here – lol). They need a bit of special care. With bulbs, you want a frost to kill the foliage, and then wait about a week. Dig the bulbs, and brush the dirt off them – remember though, don’t wash them with water – you don’t want them to absorb it and rot. Then, it’s best to layer them in a cardboard box, with newspaper between each layer. Store them in a cool, dry location, but make sure they are in a location where the temperature is above freezing. Also – a handy tip I found – label them by color and type, because you will most likely forget which are which by the time spring rolls around. Check them about once a month, and throw out any mushy ones. Also – don’t store them in an airtight container – it’s going to promote mold.

So there you have it! There was one article with some in-depth instructions for specific types of plants, here. Very interesting – best of luck to you!

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2 thoughts on “How to winter-over your perennial plants

  1. Nice post. Although, some plants may not need that much treatment. Thick Mulch or Hay, can help insulate the ground and keep bulbs from frost damage. It depends of course on how cold it gets where you are. Good advice on labeling too! It sucks to forget which plant bulbs are which.

  2. Very true! There are a lot of plants who are completely happy with just a bit of mulch! And, yes, it DEFINITELY sucks to forget which bulbs are which lol!!!

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