Shrubs and perennials in autumn

Few shrubs bloom in the autumn. Some varieties of rose continue to display their pale splendours, but otherwise the eye is mostly drawn to perennials such as goldenrod, echinacea or asters as well as a few other species. This is where the quality of a good garden design comes to the fore. When you succeed in making your garden look attractive all year round by not only ensuring that something is always in flower, but also by incorporating changes in leaf colour, branch structures, different green tones and/or other contrasts (e.g. tall and low-growing; airy and densely structured plants; deciduous and evergreen trees; shrubs/perennials/annuals/bulbs, etc.) and combining these design elements in a clever way.

This may be all too much for the layperson and it may make sense to call in an expert. What many people don't know is that there are some shrubs that flower in the middle of winter, for example winter jasmine (jasminum nudiflorum) or witch hazel (hamamelis mollis). These should be positioned in the garden so that they can been viewed at reasonable proximity from a warm indoor vantage point. In my opinion, perennials (herbaceous plants that survive several seasons) should be used more often in our gardens because they provide an unlimited variety. However, the care that they require is generally greater and demands more expertise.

If planted in the right position, tall ornamental grasses (which are also considered as perennials) are real eye-catchers in any garden, for example pampas grass (cortaderia selloana) which can reach a height of 2 metres and which also comes in a pink flowering variety. However, pampas grass needs protecting in the winter and should be tied up or wrapped with reed matting. Good nurseries now stock more than 20 different ornamental grasses that grow from 15 cm to 3 m in height. However, ornamental; grasses are better planted in spring when they rarely fail.

Before winter descends on the shrubs and perennials in the garden, there are still some tasks to carry out and some details to be taken into account, for example:

  • The dead leaves from shrubs (and trees) must be removed from the lawn, otherwise there will be an increased risk of fungus (typhula, fusarium, ...) or even bald patches in the grass. Dry leaves are most easily removed with a broom or rake and should be gathered in bags. This is good composting material (but not chestnut, oak or nut tree foliage). A layer of leaves under shrubs protects the soil and creates optimum soil conditions. One or more piles of leaves, preferably also including finely cut twigs, will provide a good winter home for hedgehogs as well as other small animals.
  • Tender pot plants (e.g. oleander, brugmansia, agapanthus, hibiscus, fuchsias, etc.) should be taken indoors for the winter. I don't want to get involved in the topic of temperature and moisture conditions for overwintering plants. The important things, particularly with oleanders, is to watch for disease and pests (scale insects) and to take corrective action in good time.
  • Tubers from dahlias, begonias, gladioli, etc. should be dug up and overwintered in suitable indoor areas.
  • Perennials can and should be left uncut in the winter and only diseased parts (e.g. mildew) should be removed and disposed of.
  • Rhododendrons should be protected from winter sun (the evergreen leaves come back to life in the sun, but the moisture in the soil freezes in severe frosts, causing the plants to dry out).
  • Some perennials, such as phlox, echinacea, etc., must be divided when they get too big. The tell-tale sign is baldness in the middle of the plant.
  • Delicate floribunda roses must be banked up as far as the graft. Standard roses should be lightly wrapped, but make sure not to use plastic sheeting. These plants should only be cut back sharply in the spring.

Prof. Karl E. Schönthaler
VIKING garden expert

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