Spring clean up questions

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

I just started gardening last summer, and put in a lot of perennials- mostly shade ones. A few of them- heuchera and hakonechloa (sp?) grass still have most of their foliage left over from last season. What do I do to those plants as far as getting them ready for Spring/Summer....and when do I do it? We just had a snow and ice storm, which I am hoping represents the end of winter...last week, when it was warm, I took a stroll around the garden and saw a few things like hostas just barely starting to peak thru here and there.

One other thing- I buried a hydrangea macrophylla in leaves in the fall as winter protection...when is a good time to remove the leaves?

Somerville, MA(Zone 5a)

well if the grass is dead, cut it back to about 6" or where the new grass is emerging. un bury the hydrangea in a few weeks IMO

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Yes, the grass is just brown...it actually looked very pretty up against the snow all winter. Is it important to wait for new growth before I cut it back, or does that not matter? It's the one thing I am really anxious to see start growing, because I've been reading conflicting things about it's hardiness in my zone.

I'll wait on the hydrangea- not looking forward to that task because the leaves really seem packed down in there. Thanks for your help.

Somerville, MA(Zone 5a)

yes this is exactly why people plant ornamental grasses, it has "year round appeal" when there are very few things in winter some of the grass seed heads remain [less big snow] and the color is very stunning in the grey of winter. No you do not need to wait for new growth to cut it back.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

My Hakonechloa just started showing new growth recently, and since you're several zones colder than me it'll probably be a little while for you yet. I usually leave the old foliage on it until I start to see new growth, otherwise I'll forget where the grass is and accidentally dig it up when I'm planting something else! For the hydrangea, I would get the leaves off as soon as you're past the chance of getting really bad cold spells (temps in the 20's and 30's shouldn't bother it, but if you're still going to get down into the teens or single digits I'd leave it covered for a bit longer).

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

So it's the nighttime temps I have to watch out for, right? When we bought the hydrangea (Merritt's Supreme) at a local nursery, it didn't come with a grower's tag- just a hand written label. We planted it anyway, then I went online and looked it up and was surprised to see that it was rated as zone 6, when we are in 5. I know I probably should have dug it up and returned it, but it was a gift from my mom, and I just never got around to it. When I read up on them, I read that late frost killing off the buds is the main reason those type of hydrangea fail to bloom up here. It had a lot of buds at the end of last season, so I really want this thing to make it! So, I know that this is probably a very dumb question- but, what exactly constitutes a "frost"- is that any time the temp drops below 32 degrees?

Also, what do I do about the heuchera foliage- cut that off when it starts new growth as well?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

You can get frost anytime it gets around freezing so if you want to play it safe, wait until after your last frost date to remove the protection (a light frost shouldn't hurt the buds, but a hard frost might). The reason why those hydrangeas are rated for zone 6 is exactly what you've realized about the flower buds, the plant itself will be just fine in your winters. If you're willing to protect it every year, it's definitely possible to get them to do well in zone 5. But if you get sick of fussing with it every year, you might try one of the newer cultivars like 'Endless Summer' instead, these bloom on new wood as well as old wood, so even if your buds freeze off over the winter you'll still get blooms.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Yes, I know about Endless Summer (now, lol). I thought I would see how this one does this summer and decide whether or not it is worth the effort.. If it's the only plant I have to fuss with, I guess that's not so bad...I think it might be in a fairly protected site, as it stayed pretty alive looking for several weeks after I noticed other hydrangeas in the neighborhood conking out for the winter.

I did some searching about last frost dates, and now I'm even more confused. Some websites say the approximate last frost date here is as late as June 5...would I really leave it covered as late as that? I'm right on the coast- it just never seems that cold here to me. Is there any danger to leaving it all covered up for so long..the leaves seem to really be compressed down onto the plant at this point.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

The thing you need to balance is waiting long enough that you're not going to get terribly cold temperatures, but also you probably want to have it uncovered before it breaks dormancy and starts to leaf out, I can't imagine the new leaves would do well if they're covered in a blanket of wet leaves. Not being from your zone, I have no idea when they would start to leaf out (mine started over a month ago) so hopefully someone from a colder climate will jump in with some comments. I used to live in zone 6 but wasn't much of a gardener back then and never grew anything that I had to protect for the winter.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Do you think waiting a few more weeks before taking the leaves off and then replacing them with something lighter weight (burlap or a sheet?) would make any sense? I can't imagine anything would be able to live under that pile of mashed down leaves...but I'm totally new at this stuff, obviously.

Lincoln, NE(Zone 5b)

My mom is in zone 4 and this is what she does with her plants. When the weather "starts" to warm up and she sees some signs of spring, she removes some of the leaves around the plants but leaves a little for protection from the late freeze. You could try removing the really wet, heavy stuff and add a lighter, dry protection until you start to see more spring growth. Good luck!

Benton, KY(Zone 7a)

You can do as daltri said and begin to remove the leaves a little at a time. A heavy old blanket thrown over the bush if extra cold temps are forecast will usually prevent damage if it's just for a day or so. Folks do that with azaleas here. You can drive up and down the roads and see blankets and quilts over the azalea bushes..(some even in bloom) when we get a frost warning.

I would gradually get those leaves off and keep an eye on the forecast. Frost can happen above 32*, as there are pockets that get colder. Be aware that there's the possibility of frost at 36*/38* if the night is clear and there's no wind.

We're at the very edge of the growing zone for Jasmine...some folks make a wire cage and fill it with straw around the plant during the winter...wrap the cage in plastic or bubblewrap..(but not the open top...leave that open) This gets plants that may be less hardy through the winter. You might devise something like that for future winters.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Yeah, I was going to try to research other methods for next year. And thanks for addressing what to do for the top. A lot of articles I've read about winter protection aren't really detailed...and when you are as new at this stuff as I am, you need all the details you can possibly get.

Ok, so when I start seeing signs of life around here, I'll work on removing some of the leaves.

Sharpsville, IN

From reading all of these posts, I'm worried that I didn't cover my hydrangea bush AT ALL through the winter. I had no idea I was supposed to (Zone 5a). I did read on the tag that came with it to not prune until spring, so we left it as-is all winter. I've not seen any signs of new growth on it yet. Is there hope for it (still haven't pruned it), or is it probably finished?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Do you know what hydrangea you have? There are some species (paniculata, quercifolia, arborescens) that will do just fine without protection in zone 5 because they bloom on new wood. Hydrangea serrata and most H. macrophyllas bloom on old wood, so if you don't protect them over the winter the buds can freeze and then you don't get flowers the following year (if you have one of these, the best time to prune is just after they bloom). But there are some newer cultivars of H. macrophylla such as 'Endless Summer' which bloom on both old and new wood, so they will still bloom this year even if you didn't protect them.

Frankfort, KY

Noreaster:

Generally if a plant is recomended for one zone, such as your example, you can go up or down a zone.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

A lot of hydrangeas will say they're hardy to zone 5, and the plant itself will survive just fine, but if it's a variety that blooms on old wood then you'll often lose the flowers if you're in zone 5. Unfortunately the plant tag won't usually tell you that part!

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

This thing on the end of the branch- is that a flower bud or is it just leaves? Still not sure where the flowers come from on this thing, lol. It was one of these that had snapped off the end of a stem from being buried.

Thumbnail by Noreaster
Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Kind of looks more like leaves to me but only time will tell! I'll have to admit I've never really looked that closely.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

That's strange- I had posted a response before that one with the pic...I must not have hit send after the preview. Anyway, what I said was that I went out yesterday and tried to loosen/remove a lot of the leaves. I was afraid that the weight of them was crushing the plant. I did see a branch (cane?) that had broken in half, and one of those leaf/bud tips had broken off on another stem. Hoping there is not a lot more of that when I completely uncover it. I don't think I'll do the leaf thing again next year- have to find another method, if anything. I piled some dry leaves loosely back on top, since light snow was in the forecast. I was kind of concerned that the stems looked rather sickly, though I don't know what they are supposed to look like. The ones I see from walking around the neighborhood are more mature plants, and they are just pale colored stalks with dark buds up and down them...no sign of life as far as I can tell- and these are unprotected, so maybe they are another variety altogether. Mine has some signs of life, so I'm still not entirely sure when I should completely expose it.

Thumbnail by Noreaster
Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

In other news, I think I can see the very start of some new growth on the hakonechloa grass (little pointy things just peaking up from the base) , so I'm feeling optimistic about that. :)

Sharpsville, IN

ecrane3:

The hydrangea's are H. macrophyllas--Glowing Embers. It says for best results prune in early spring, so I guess maybe there is some hope.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

You might want to post in the Hydrangea forum and see if anyone knows if Glowing Embers is a reblooming type or not--I did some googling and got mixed results as to whether it was a rebloomer or not, if it's not then I wouldn't prune until after it blooms.

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