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Cleaning up the perennial garden

With a few exceptions, perennial plants dont care if they are cut down in fall or not. I used to leave almost everything standing in my garden because I like the way it looked after a snow fall. But I find some plants look better than others as fall progresses and Im getting more selective. Its purely a matter of aesthetics so I try to take advantage of a nice day this time of year and just cut down the plants that have become floppy and bedraggled looking. For me, the two plants that hold up the longest, often lasting until spring, are phlox and sedum Autumn Joy. My ornamental grasses hold up pretty well too, but are often flattened by a heavy, wet snowfall. A big advantage to cutting out the plants that have flopped is youll have much less work to do next spring when time is short and the weather unpredictable. The exception to the cutting down rule for plants are sage, Russian sage, lavender and buddleia or butterfly bush. These plants have semi-woody stems and are less winter-hardy if cut to the ground in the fall. Wait until spring to cut them to about two inches tall. While youre out cutting down the bedraggled perennials, its also a good time to mark your plants. Its amazing how hard it is to remember in spring where the new perennials are that you planted last year. If I bought three plants of one variety I try to put at least a twig if not a plastic tag next to each one so I can make sure they all survived next year. The twig is a subtle marker and more natural than a plastic tag but come next year you may scratch your head over what they all mean. Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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