Winter Chores in the Garden

By Carmine Carosella, Fairfax Master Gardener

Winter chores

Potted Aucuba japonica protected against winter sun and winds with recycled Christmas tree branches.

Winter is here and the joy of gardening continues. Yes, I said joy; it’s not work if you love gardening as much as I do. And there’s still plenty to do. The leaves are all raked and placed in the compost pile; the spring bulbs are planted. But as I look around, I see lots more to keep me busy.

Many perennials that have grown all year are now tattered and are ready for cleanup. The old leaves of the hellebores (Helleborus) need removal before the new flower buds and leaves begin to appear. I also cut back the leaves of my Solomon seals (Polygonatum) to ready the plants for the new growth. This year’s creeping liriope (Liriope spicata) could use a haircut. I simply run a lawnmower over the old plants. I remove diseased leaves from under perennials such as tree peony and phlox in order to stop fungus from overwintering.

Now is also the time to spray an anti-transpirant such as “Wilt pruf” on some of plants that are marginally hardy in our climate. This includes a few of my camellias, Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) and winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Marginata’). I also protect perennials in pots from the low temperatures and drying winds with branches cut off this year’s Christmas tree. I simply stack the branches in and around potted plants such as spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) and the evergreen satsuki azaleas (Rhododendrum indicum).

It’s also a good time to observe and remove that nasty and invasive English ivy (Hedera helix). I take a hand weed wacker and hack away the vines crawling throughout the woods, hand-pulling the ivy that’s begun to creep up my trees. Speaking of trees, many