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Winter in the Garden

Trimmed ornamental grass bundle and stems

Each winter I enjoy what I call “dream gardening” through catalogs and online garden sites; I must admit I do so on many cold, cloudy days. However, sunny winter days are perfect for getting back outside and tackling tasks on the winter “to do” list that will save you time during the growing season.


Cutting down and raking up Liriope sp. or Lilyturf should always be near the top of the list. At Maymont, we use a lawn mower for cutting large expanses of this evergreen groundcover (native to Japan) and a weed eater for smaller areas. The goal is to remove the old growth to make way for a fresh bed of new growth come spring. 



The staff also cuts down the ornamental grasses each winter for the same reason, with the cut height determined by the type of grass. Virginia’s native Panicum sp. or Switchgrass is cut down to about 6-8”. The Japanese native Miscanthus sp. or Maiden grass along with our native Sorghastrum sp. or Indiangrass, typically is cut down to a height of 10-12”.  All debris is composted on site for use in garden beds in the future.





What is not composted is debris cleaned out from the German iris beds. Iris borer eggs overwinter in dead leaf debris making control of this tenacious borer fairly simple for those who keep a clean garden.  During the winter, the German Iris foliage is cut down to 1” above the rhizomes (which are modified stems not swollen roots), and removed from the site along with any leaf debris from the same and nearby beds.




Another pest that is easy to control in the winter is the hungry Tent Caterpillar that hatches in the spring and fills the tree canopy with spun webs in tree crotches. During winter walks, inspect the branches of ornamental and bearing fruit trees for the swollen shiny egg masses laid along the smaller branches. Using your fingers, roll the small egg mass off the bare branch and dispose of it in a plastic bag. Consider carrying a plastic sandwich bag in your jacket pocket for such occasions.



Winter is also the best time to control scale insects with a timely application of horticulture oil. When applied according to the instructions on the label, this old school method of control smothers the scale insects without damaging the plant.


Above are just a few items that are addressed from Maymont’s winter “to do” list for the gardens. I hope they encourage you to pen your own list so you can take advantage of the sunny days of winter saving the chillier cloudy days for dreaming while surfing the web or flipping through catalogs.


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