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Janet Macunovich

Okay to uncover?

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A hot topic, transferred here from our email:

Hi Janet,

I always cover my perennial beds with leaves in the fall and uncover them gradually sometime in April as the weather warms up. Of course, with the weather we have had, everything is coming up through the leaves, and I am very tempted to uncover the beds. I know we may and probably will have some cooler if not cold weather coming, but I am not sure what I should do.

Please let me know what I should do. - T.K. -


Uncover and be ready to throw straw or cloth sheets or something (NOT plastic) over the plants if we come into a very cold period.*


Or take an even simpler route -- do nothing. Let them come up through the leaves. They will. You do NOT have to uncover anything unless you heaped 12" of leaves of a type that mat.


Leaving the leaves is what we do, with a couple of exceptions based not on plants but people preferences. (Get this: We actually do let clients decide what they want to do in their gardens!). When we leave the leaves it may look a but scruffy for a while, maybe two weeks in spring as they emerge, but really and truly the plants do hide the ground by May.


At the zoo this weekend one of our longest term team members laughed when she heard me saying, "NO! Don't take those leaves off!" to a couple of new people who had decided to tidy up after cutting down butterfly bushes. That laugh was because, as the laugher then explained, "If you want to see Janet have a conniption, just try taking the leaves out of a bed."


True. When one group of zoo tidy-ers one year managed to clean a whole bed and haul off the leaves while I was not looking, I made them go rake up leaves elsewhere and re-leaf the bed...


* About how cold is too cold, and when these precocious plants will be in danger: WE think it will take a protracted period below freezing to hurt perennials. The ground is so warm (Mg_Gal stuck her soil thermometer into a bed and it read 60F already. That's normally a May 20 temperature!) that if it only drops below 32 for a couple of hours, the radiant heat from below will protect those plants. But if it gets cold, near or below freezing for a wholle day or more, they may need help.


Trees and shrubs, higher above the warm ground and more in the wind, are another matter. From a night that drops to below 28 for a number of hours we may see damage to the tops of woody plants, or to flower buds but not leaves, or to some woody plants but not others...

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