Capitol Corridor
University of California
Capitol Corridor

Keeping Plants in Their Place

Soon it will be time for Autumn Cleanup in the garden.  Several years ago, I read in one of my gardening books to not remove the dead leaves of my herbaceous perennials, but to leave them in place to act as insulation from the cold.  I am immediately attracted to any advice to avoid work so I was happy to adopt this laissez faire policy.  Besides, it made sense that the plant knew what it was doing and cloaking itself in dead leaves must serve some function.

Alas, my perennials were ignorant of geography and did not know that they found themselves in a Mediterranean climate.  They spent the winter buried in wet mush and if they did not rot at the crown and die away, they found an alternative strategy to survive.  Finding the compacted leaves too difficult to send shoots through, the plants being as lazy as I am chose to sidle sideways like crabs around the garden.  If I could have choreographed their movement, I could have had country line dancing plants.

My advice came from gardeners in climates that receive snowfall and leaves or straw would indeed make a cozy bed for plants under snow.  But I should have remembered that cold temperatures mean dry conditions also because moisture in the air becomes ice.  It just doesn’t get cold enough here to freeze the soil, so dormant plants don’t require insulation. 

So remove the dead leaves and if you are going to mulch, keep the mulch away from the crowns of dormant plants.  This way, the plant will stay where you put it.

Dieback and emergence of new shoots.
Dieback and emergence of new shoots.

Posted on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 8:57 AM


Love your style of writing and the good information

Posted by Libbey McKendry on September 22, 2012 at 2:15 AM

Good article, Meg! Enjoyed hearing about your crabby plants with wanderlust!

Posted by Donna Seslar on September 22, 2012 at 7:52 AM

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