Monday, January 5, 2015

the clean up debate

Every year the question is debated: to prune now and clean up the garden when there is little else to do, or wait until spring and allow some winter interest? Some plants have an attractive winter appearance, and if we follow the examples of Piet Oudolf and Oehme/Van Sweden, we should leave them alone until spring. Waiting until spring also shows which parts have died over the winter and which have survived. Cutting back too early can also remove some of the plant's winter protection and cause more winter die-back.

Logically, the ones that don't have such a nice winter appearance and don't have the worries about die-back (such as the herbaceous perennials that die to the ground) should be prettied up now.

So that should mean that this vitex should be cleaned up now, although it does get a significant amount of winter dieback which is not necessarily predictable, and pruning now can mean pruning again in the spring when new growth shows where the live parts and dead parts are.

 This Nepeta 'Walker's Low' doesn't have the most attractive winter appearance, but the dead foliage does serve as a marker so that I don't "forget" how big it gets and try to sneak in more plants than will really fit.

Caryopteris has a nice winter appearance, but will need to be pruned back hard in the spring, and although I could just shear it down, I like to do the more time consuming task of pruning out the dead wood. So the debate continues. In all honesty, things will get cleaned up as time and weather permits, usually when I'm itching to do something in the garden, even if I "should" wait until spring.

There, don't you feel better now?


  1. I like the middle-ground of selective pruning for winter - less interesting herbaceous plants out front seem great to go. Dormant grasses - stay. If a garden is well-designed, some can stay, the perovskia (?) in the 2nd pic, with the live interest in front (santolina?). Surprised your vitex behaves that way, even though HD is a cold spot, but is it planted in a tight spot and facing south?

    Rest well...and resist the urge to fill in too much (I know I speak blasphemy to some)...

    1. I'm trying to stay my itchy pruning finger in regards to the Perovskia, but I usually give in by February, then I wish I waited until new growth had begun. The Vitex looks particularly shabby this year. Usually it loses its leaves rather than hanging on to all the brown. Maybe I'll take the pruners to them.