For years I have endorsed and practiced the application of our double shredded bark mulches just before the onset of winter. I have been known to do this the day before a November snowfall.

Here’s what I recommend and have been doing in my garden for many years.

Sometime in LATE October or even into Mid November, cut down to near ground level, anything that is not a woody ornamental or has evergreen foliage in the winter. Typically the following evergreen or near evergreen herbaceous perennials should not be heavily mulched over the winter. Some of the following are also noted with an *. These should have their dead stems cut off or removed, and only very lightly have their green foliar basal rosettes covered by mulches. They need to be at least partly exposed to light over the winter. If you do cover any of the following with mulch, it should be removed sometime in late March to early April.


Achillea – Yarrow *

Ajuga - Bugle

Alcea – Hollyhock *

Alchemilla- Lady’s Mantle

Alyssum – Basket of Gold

Antennaria – Pussytoes

Asarum – Evergreen Gingers

Aster – Aster *

Boltonia – Bolton’s Aster *

Brunnera – Siberian Forget-me-Not

Campanula – Bellflowers *

Chelone – Turtle Head Flower *

Chrysogonum – Goldenstar

Coreopsis – Tickseed *

Chrysanthemum – Mum *

Dendranthemum – Mum *

Dianthus – Pinks

Duchesnea – Barren Strawberry

Echinacea – Coneflower *


Galeobdolon – Archangel

Geranium macrorhizum

Geranium cinereum

Goniolimon – Statice

Goodyera - Orchid

Helenium – Helen’s Flower *

Helianthemum – Rock Rose

Helleborus – Hellebore

Heuchera –Corabells et all

Iris cristata – Crested Iris

Iris verna  - Spring Iris

Jovibarba – Jovibarba

Lamium – Lamium

Lavandula – Lavender

Leotopodium – Edelweiss

Liriope – Lilytuft

Lysimachia – Pennywort

Oenothera – Sundrops

Ophiopogon – Mondo Grass


Pachysandra – Spurge

Phlox procumbens – Phlox

Phlox stolonifera – Phlox

Phlox subulata – Phlox

Polystichum – Christmas Fern

Primula – Primrose

Pulmonaria – Lungworts

Rudbeckia – Black-Eyed Susan

Salvia – Salvia *


Sedum – Evergreen types

Solidago – Goldenrod

Spiranthes cernua

Stachys – Lambs Ear

Thymus – Thyme

Tiarella – Foam Flowers

Vinca – Periwinkle

and any others with
evergreen winter foliage


If the herbaceous perennials have particular winter interest, such as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ & Calamagrostis `Karl Forester’, leave the heads. No need to totally pillage the garden.

Once you have cut off the dead foliage, scapes, stems etc, just lay them in the garden in the locations where you cut them. On plants that have bushy stems, such as Aster, break or cut them into smaller pieces.

If they have diseases, they should have been cut off and disposed of long before this time. Also, unless the plant is of strong sentimental value or totally awesome yet disease prone, get rid of it and replace it with one of the more disease resistant cultivars or a different type of plant. I can’t think of another reason to keep disease prone plants in the garden.

Also, any NATURAL leaf drop from the surrounding trees and shrubs I allow to remain on the garden. I’m not talking about naturally wind blown piles or leaves piled feet deep in the beds or forest. I am talking about what would naturally fall if the plants were growing in a forested environment. Chances are the plants that you have growing in your shady environment evolved in forested environments. Yes, if the leaves become dense on those listed above, damage often occurs. Yet, I have seen Pachysandra and Vinca performing admirably in Quercus – Oak  & Acer – Maple forests.

Apply our PLGF fertilizer to the entire landscape. See our link on the website for more information.

Next, cover everything, leaves, stems, scapes, old flowers etc, except for those listed above, with about one-half inch to one inch of double or twice shredded oak or other mixed hardwood BARK mulch. Do not use wood chips. With the above listed perennials, an even lighter or less than a one-half inch application will not harm them. Actually it will protect them from the vagaries of the winter’s sun, since we haven’t received reliable snow cover for many years.

In rock gardens using gravel mulches, mulching with bark mulch is not recommended.

For certain winter sun sensitive plants such as, Calluna, Doboecia, Empetrum, Erica, Lavandula, Thymus and newly planted (within this season or the past 3 years) coniferous evergreens, including Chamaecyparis, Pinus, Picea, Thuja, Thujopsis, Tsuga, especially the dwarf and miniature ones, cover with a couples of layers of nursery or landscaping fabric. This will protect them from the vagaries of the winter sun when and where lack of snow cover is the norm. Covering many gravel mulched rock garden plants with nursery fabrics is also worth a try. Use rock or giant landscape staples to hold the fabric in place.


In the Spring, once the ground has thawed about 6 inches, remove the nursery fabric, dry, and store for next winter. Gently brush aside the mulch from the above listed herbaceous perennials. Cut down any grasses and other herbaceous perennials that have had their winter interest.

Treat the garden with Pendulum Pre-M. See our web site for further information.

You are now ready for Spring.

The dead leaves, stems, scapes, etc are composting in situ, under the thin layer of bark mulch.

No need to tiptoe through the garden wondering if you’re stepping on newly emerging plants.

You may now relax and go about other Spring chores such as cleaning out the garage while enjoying the Spring garden.

originally published 2005 V19 #2

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