Creating Winter Interest in Your Garden

One of the most common questions we’re asked is how to care for and prepare outdoor plants for the cold winter months. Should they be cut back? The answer: it depends.

In Maryland, most homeowners plant trees, bushes, flowers, and shrubs to enjoy from early spring through late autumn. The cold, barren winter months are merely an afterthought. The truth is, your garden and landscape can provide year-round beauty, even in the frigid months (though you may want to enjoy the view from the comfort of your heated home).

While many people tend to cut back their perennials and ornamental grasses before the first frost, we recommend waiting until spring to cut many of these plants down to ground level. A general rule of thumb to follow is this: if your perennials look good in the fall, keep them as is through the winter. If they start to look ragged, cut them back.

Why? Many perennials and grasses provide attractive winter interest if you leave the stalks and blades of grass from ornamental grasses around. The natural look is often more pleasing to the eye than the neat and tidy look. Certain perennials and grasses have stiff stalks with seed heads or pods which can provide food for birds and create winter interest by catching snow and frost. Granted, this is not the traditional vision of beauty that you’d think of in a garden, but it is certainly much more interesting to look at than bare dirt or a pruned mound of vegetation.

Keep in mind that not all perennials are created equal; some simply won’t look good when they die back, and others won’t have the strength to stand upright in the winter. These should be cut back before the first frost. But many will be perfectly fine through the harsh winter months and won’t need to be pruned until early spring. Just be sure to cut them back before new growth appears.

Follow these tips and you’ll be in the same spot in the spring as you were in the fall, but you’ll have had the entire winter to enjoy your garden. Wondering which plants to leave and which to cut back? Give our landscaping experts a call, we’ll be happy to assist!