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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - October 22, 2009

From: Mickletonn, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Winter preparation for wildflowers
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

My first attempt at my wild flower garden is successful. I planted a box of perennial seeds, so I don't know what type of plants I actually have. My concern is what to do once the temperature drops. Do you cut everything back? Is it likely that they will just come back next spring? I am a novice but would like to keep the garden looking as good.

ANSWER:

You certainly picked the right year to plant wildflower seeds as the rains and cooler temperatures in the northeast made ideal conditions for the seeds to germinate and the seedlings to get established.

I hope that you purchased your seeds from a reputable source and that the mix was made up of plants indeed suited to your area and conditions.  If you still have the package, a list of plants should be on it and you can get information about each plant by searching NPIN, our native plant information network.  If you don't have a list of plants, NPIN has a function called Recommended Species.  It will create a list for New Jersey ... scroll through the list and see if you recognize your plants.

You will also find our "How To" article Meadow Gardening helpful, though in a general sense. 

It is important that you identify the plants that you have in order to ensure ongoing success.  There are very few perennial plants that flower the first year they are planted.  Their root systems are larger than the plant above ground, so it usually takes a full growing season of establishing roots before the plant above ground is large enough to flower.  It sounds like you had flowers so it is likely that you have annual plants or a seed mix of perennials suited to a much warmer area.

I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm because we welcome novice gardeners who want to plant native plants with open arms.  So ... leave everything be for the winter.  If you have annuals that will self seed you don't want to cut them back before they can drop their seed.  If you have perennials with a seed head that will stand up all winter, the birds will be grateful.  In the spring, see what is there.  Some plants will have very little signs of life, but others will have a rosette of living leaves at the base of the dried up growth from the previous year which can be removed at that time.  As soon as the soil in your garden has dried out enough that you can pick up a handful and not be able to squeeze out water, you can work in your garden without damaging the plants or soil.

If nothing comes back, don't be discouraged.  Simply visit our recommended species list, make your choices and try again!

 

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