Putting the Garden to Bed

My favorite time in the garden is when the buds start bursting open and plants start emerging from the ground. Seeing all my perennials coming out of the ground after a long winter makes me happy. My second favorite time in the garden is putting the garden to bed.

As much as I love springtime and flowers, things start to look a little ratty come August. And honestly, I’m tired of pruning, dead-heading and sweating at that point. So every fall I look around the garden and think about what I want it to look like next year. I take note of plants that didn’t do well in certain spots, and plants that thrived with others. Then I get it ready for bed. Here’s how.

1) Cutting back the garden

To cut back or not to cut back? That is the question.

The answer is…it depends. Some plants (like purple cone flowers) have seed heads that look interesting and also provide food for the birds.

Dried hydrangea flowers look pretty to me and it’s fun to see them blow around like tumble weeds in the winter. Ornamental grasses can stay if they look good.  Chop them if they start to look ratty.

Rhododendrons and lilacs develop buds that will turn to flowers in the spring. If you prune these in the fall you’ll miss out on spring flowers.

Some perennials (like peonies) develop fungus spots and look terrible after the first frost. Cut them back. Who wants to look at something that looks terrible? And, the more you do in the fall the less you’ll have to do in the spring.


Cone flower seed heads
Purple cone flower
Dried hydrangea flowers
Peony leaves


2) Sanitation, sanitation, sanitation

Plants get nasty little fungus’, spots, insect egg sacks, rust, etc. These leaves leaves and stems drop to the soil. Do yourself a favor and get rid of them. Rake plant debris out of your beds in the fall so you have a fresh, clean garden in the winter.

Bud on Rhododendron
Ornamental grass
Ornamental grass
Lilac bud

3) Transplant

This is my favorite part of putting the garden to bed. Fall is the perfect time for transplanting. Move things around. Did you put a plant in the front that ended up being to tall? Move it to the back. Round up all your dahlias and plant them in a wave. Spread your black eyed susans around the garden for pops of color in the late summer. Divide your hostas. Divide your peonies. Divide anything for more plants in the spring!

The more you transplant and divide the more surprised you’ll be in the spring when plants start popping up in new places. If you read my about page, you know this is something that makes me happy.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who gets a thrill when that happens.

That’s it. You have put the garden to bed.

One last thing. Instead of putting your Christmas tree out on the curb this year, cut off the branches and put them over the soil in your perennial beds. This will keep the plants a little bit warmer and the evergreen needles will provide acid to the soil.

Does anyone have any other tips about putting the garden to bed? I’d love to hear them. Happy Gardening!

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