I'm a plant heart breaker but I wanna change.....

Indianapolis, IN(Zone 6a)

The cranesbill is a hardy plant ( I feel like I should be wearing a fluffy shirt and a white wig and standing on top of a lectern.) They just want to grow; they don't ask for much( except to have their under regions cleared out when needed); and they like a good meal and sun with sometimes a bit of dappling.

That's fine. I love my cranesbill.

I'm writing about how at the end of every summer, after I've taken very good care of all my guys and gals - i just sort of........disapear. I know it's wrong so please no angry letters, or try to keep them brief. The point is, i want to change and i thought my cranesbills would be a good place to try and get some help.

I have four cranesbill and they're all doing swell, thank you . One is a Johnson's Blue, the other a Rozzanne, the third a feisty purple fellow from the wilds of Michigan & the other is another gift from someone's vacation.

I treat them well. I have a good green thumb, and I can get moved to tears when I see a plant getting abused, for example. All through this drought full summer in Indy (and we're about to watch " the Dust Bowl" on PBS) my gardens were hand watered, and fed and protected from the wind as much as I could. My gardens looked beee-u-tiful with a capitol B.

That said, I have a husband and two young daughters who could give two in a handbag about gardens, the health of the plants, and what they need to thrive. Asking them for help is really just asking for trouble.

When the weather starts to get cold, that's when I put on my metaphorical hat, say I'm going out for a pack of Camel's and don't come back til springtime .

I'm overwhelmed, confused and just plain stupid about how to protect my plants in the wintertime. So i end up doing nothing. Whenever i start talking about mulch to someone around here, they start telling me all about their compost pile.

Then i tell them i don't have a composter, nor will i, and they slowly back away out of the room.

I don't have a composter and,for many reasons TMTT, I never well. I have Lowes and Sullivan's and some good stone stores I go to. All of them will sell me some nice brown colored mulch. Before I started reading a lot of the discussions on Dave's Garden, my biggest question was how much mulch do my plants require to get thru another insane Indianapolis (non) winter? How deep and when should I remove?

But after reading some of the mulch stories here, now I'm scared. Am I bringing in termites, scorpions, poison for dogs, etc? (our little house is brick but we do have a dog that would eat cocoa mulch in a second.)

Some plants I get - don't mulch your bearded iris , right? But for my little Jewels like Mrs. Johnson and my wild cranes bills , what do I need to to keep them warm and happy and healthy and bug free and when it's time to pull away the old mulch? And practically speaking - what mulch is affordable but not toxic or otherwise repulsive?

What else am I missing? What else will die if I use Scott's Brown Mulchy Mulch, which is what my husband bought me 4 bags of as a "surprise". ( he's cute)

I'm sorry to make this sound so dramatic, but my physical movement is limited, especially in the cold, and I'm doing this on my own. Shlepping the bags here and there , and whatever. And I've got hostas, and day lilies , bearded tongue and hibiscus, dark red sedum and three different butterfly bushes all looking at me plaintively with the same question: "Are you going to leave us to fend for ourselves AGAIN this winter??"

Thank you so much for surviving til the end of this post and for those of you who did not, I wish you peace and healthy mulch.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Oh my... Such angst! I guess there was a time when I felt that way, years ago when I was new at it. That was when I was in the same zone as you, now I've moved to a colder one. My goal is low maintenance except for a few specials, but even they have to be able to take it or I treat them like annuals.

Some years I do a really, really good job of fall mulching (not this year, I didn't buy enough ahead and by the time I went looking for more there was nothing left in the stores for the garden, only supplies for pellet stoves, holiday stuff and the like), but I have never gone farther than that, nor will I. And actually, maybe not that good a job- I don't mound up around my roses, or anything else, for example. I only put down an inch or two at most. I make sure anything I've moved or divided recently gets some at least, even if, like this year, we just got so busy I never did get to all the beds. And I don't remove it in the spring, either. It gets dug in some when I clean up the beds and plant in the spring. I usually add to it to help with weed suppression and moisture retention while I'm planting. These days I use shredded pine because I like the way it looks on the beds and I like the way it breaks down. It's a nice soil builder, keeps my worms fat and happy. I get it at the local hardware store or at Home Depot, depending on what's more convenient at the time. I use small cedar chips closest to the house because I think it looks 'dressier.' In the past I've used woodland mix, delivered by the yard, all sizes and types of chips, and even shredded licorice mulch one year.

One thing I like to do (also didn't get to it this year) is broadcast Plantone thickly on the beds spring and fall. I have a friend who is a pro landscape designer, and she swears by it, rarely uses any other fert.

Your plant list is very hardy. I wouldn't worry about Cranesbills- It sounds like yours are well fed and healthy going into winter. I have Johnson's Blue, too, and Rozanne, AT Johnson, G Pheum Samobar and a bunch of others. Daylilies, hostas, sedums, penstemons, phlox, echinaceas, Platycodons, countless others come back every year. Most are rated for much colder zones. Hardy hibiscus- Rose of Sharon, is that right? -also Butterfly Bushes, I'm less sure about those. I used to have them in Z 6 and they didn't need any special care.

So don't beat yourself up too badly, you don't deserve it. You're there when your babies need it the most, feeding, hand- watering during the stress of heat and drought. Winter should be a breeze for them. Good luck!


Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

I don't do any winter-mulching of any Geranium sp. (nor even of theoretically more tender plants) here in zone 3. Since these plants you mention are completely hardy (even here), they don't need winter protection to survive, so it's not clear why you feel you should use it? Winter mulching can actually be detrimental, as it can promote rotting of crowns, especially in areas with heavy snowfall or winter rains (the "winter wet" syndrome).

Indianapolis, IN(Zone 6a)

Thank you to both of you. It's funny that today ( Christmas) I finally was able to mulch, which mostly consisted of just what I described: me lugging giant bags of mulch from the back of the house to the front and then frantically throwing out what I could (a lot of the mulch was frozen and I've had frost bite so....)

I only had 4 bags of pine something so I also used the left over good dirt from my outdoor hanging plants, once I removed the plant. Anyone see a problem with that , other then a wacky volunteer or two?

Now from what I remember , bearded iris get NO mulch, right? But day lilies get some? And the rest of my usual gang of hosers: butterfly bushes, beards tongue, pelargonium , blue fescue - they get the usual circle of how high? And all my butterfly bushes, coneflowers and that new kind of echinea ( used to be called bachelor buttons and were mostly blue and rangy) that is white flowered - they all still have foliage. Do I leave it as protection or lop it off? Is the story different for foliage in vertical plants ( butterfly bush)than in horizontal ( echinus, coreopsis , pelargonium).

I've also never understood when to prune butterfly bushes( buddleia ) . My husband once hit one with the lawn mower in the spring and the poor thing split in two but that's not a pruning method I want to repeat.

I'll shut up now and thank you again for your answers. If you could just manage a few more before what's supposed to be our first big snow storm ( it never is) it would make being alone on Christmas not so blue. Thanks.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Alta's an expert, you should listen to her. Your plant list is quite hardy. Daylilies, iris, fescue, cranesbills, penstemon ( beard tongue), they're all fine. Pelargoniums are annuals, don't bother, they're goners unless you bring them inside. In zone 6 I used to leave my buddleias alone in the fall so the garden didn't look bare, then cut them to12" in the spring so they'd grow full and bushy instead of rangy and sparse. The story is different for borderline hardy plants in your zone, such as some of the more delicate roses, evergreens, etc. it's also more important for those that have been recently planted or divided.. Their root systems aren't developed enough to keep them from heaving during alternating freezes and thaws. Honestly, except for those exceptions, I'd worry more about mulching in the spring.

Merry Christmas!

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