Jack Frost has finally danced his chilly fingers through the garden gate and blown his frozen breath over those hardy late bloomers. The first frost turns gardens into a magical fairy land. Heuchera, also known as coral bells, acquire an icy white rim, and Asters appear to have been dipped in diamond dust, so brightly do they sparkle in the first rays of the sun. Unfortunately, the magic doesn’t last long. Heat from the rising sun quickly melts those frosty crystals, leaving behind a sodden mess.
Hosta leaves that yesterday were slowly fading from pale yellow to crackling brown are now plastered against the dirt in a mushy pulp. The tall bare stems of stately Echinacea, commonly called coneflowers, lay in disarray, their heavy seed pod heads having finally borne them to the ground. Soon snow will blanket the garden, wrapping it in slumber until next spring.
Before you hose off your garden tools and store them away for the winter, there’s one final chore you should accomplish to ensure a healthy garden next spring. To decrease the risk of infecting your garden plants with destructive diseases, bacteria or fungi, dead plant stems should be cut down and dying leaves should be removed from your garden. If left in place over the winter, rotting plant material will attract insects and provide a fertile place for fungus and bacteria to grow. Decaying leaves can also trap too much moisture around plants that can lead to root rot as melting winter snows and early spring rains saturate the soil.
The dried, brown stems from Hosta blooms and Hemerocallis daylilies should lift out easily with a slight tug. Do not pull too hard or you may uproot the plant. If the stem doesn’t yield easily, use pruning shears to cut it off near the ground.