"Life after the freeze," by the Whistling Gardener

The Farmer’s Almanac calendar makes a great gift as each month has a different hand painted picture.
The Farmer’s Almanac calendar makes a great gift as each month has a different hand painted picture. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Now that the snow and ice have melted and it is safe to go back into our gardens there are several things we can do to make us feel better.

Deciduous grasses like Japanese Forest Grass and the several selections of Maiden Grass can all be cut back to the ground.

The same holds true for most perennials with this reminder: “mushers” like hostas can be cleaned up right down to the crown of the plant but “stickers” like asters and mums and hardy fuchsias should only be cut half way back for now.

You can finish the job in late winter or early spring as new growth emerges from the base of the perennial.

My hardy bananas are looking pretty sad and day by day they are becoming more and more flaccid. What I usually do at this point is to take a sharp knife and start cutting them back until I find green healthy tissue. Sometimes that means going all the way back to the ground but if I am lucky I might still have a couple of feet or more of viable stock that I can wrap for the remainder of the winter.

Remember, bananas are just like grasses in that the growth point is not at the top like a shrub but rather at the bottom of the shoot at or below the ground level. Cutting a banana stock back is just like mowing the lawn. It will grow back provided it isn’t frozen all the way down to the roots.

Either way an established clump of hardy bananas will come back in the spring even if they are frozen all the way down to the ground and still get 10-12 feet tall by the end of the summer.

Freeze or no freeze, it is time to remove all the foliage on our Oriental Hellebores before the winter blooms emerge. This also helps to reduce the spread of disease.

The same holds true of the newer “niger” grosses like Ivory Prince, Jacob and the many new crosses that are out there.

Corsican and fetid hellebores should not be pruned back now or you will not get any blooms later in the winter.

If you have Epimedium you can usually wait until February to cut their foliage back but don’t wait too long or again you will damage the winter blooms.

Other evergreen perennials like Bergenia simply need to have the tattered foliage removed. All of these actions will make the garden look tidier which always makes us feel better.

Speaking of feeling better there is still time to shop for a fellow gardener (or for yourself if you can’t rely on the spouse).

One gift I enjoy every year is the Farmer’s Almanac, both the booklet and the calendar. Both of these sell for under ten bucks so they make a good stocking stuffer and while most of what the Almanac says I take with a huge grain of salt it is still fun read (sorry if that sounds like sacrilege).

The calendar is especially nice to look at as each month it has a different hand painted picture.

The other gift that I think is a no brainer is a gift certificate which conveys the thought that you care with the realization that you don’t have a clue what that person wants for their garden.

Put a stipulation on it that you must be present when it is redeemed so you can share in the enjoyment of the purchases.

Since next week is Christmas I am going to take the week off but I promise I will have some New Year’s Resolutions the following week.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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