I LOVE this time of year. Yes, this most-perennials-turn-brown-and-crispy time of year. It’s a good time for letting Mama Nature cull the weak. If you want a low maintenance yard, then a mild winter like this should not worry you or your plants one bit. Yes, some may turn brown, but that’s what perennials do naturally—they need a little dormancy time (a little rest so they can come back next year twice as strong).
For some strange reason people think that brown in the yard is ugly and run for the clippers at the first sign of frost; up north we call the brown “winter interest.” So, don’t go rampaging through your garden beds cutting every bit of brown as it appears.
Dead foliage not only acts as an insulator for the plants, it also helps protect the wildlife you’re trying to attract to your yard. Brown plants may have seeds and they also house little insects, which together help nourish birds during these chilly times. And any good butterfly gardener with host plants knows that caterpillars wander all over the yard before they go into chrysalis. There’s no way of knowing how many are being tossed to the compost if you cut your brown in the cold.
If your garden is like mine and filled with horrible hydrophobic sandy soil, the way to make it better is to add organic material yearly. Fallen leaves should be raked into your beds—not to the curb! Oak and pine are great for mulching beds, because they help acidify your soil as they slowly decompose. Even fast-decomposing leaves like maple, sycamore, and sweetgum offer a nice little blanket of warmth in these chilly times. Plus, a blanket of leaves helps suppress weeds, adds organic material to the soil, and costs a lot less than buying mulch.
Just remember to enjoy this wonderful, chilly weather for the short time we have it. March is the time for your pruning and cleaning when there’s less of a chance of baby leaves getting hit by the frost. All too soon it will be an unbearably hot August and we’ll be asking for the cooler weather back.