Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
2 ratings

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!

 

More Wildflowers Questions

White Bluebonnets
March 15, 2004 - Are white Bluebonnets rare?
view the full question and answer

Evergreen groundcovers for NE NC
April 20, 2015 - Can you please provide a list of evergreen native groundcovers for Northeastern NC?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on Rain-lily
April 12, 2005 - What is the common lily (I think) that grows in the ditches and especially this year because of all the rain. The flower is trumpet shaped and has red stripes in the petals? Very common everywhere t...
view the full question and answer

Information on what Texas wildflowers are disappearing
August 02, 2011 - I was shocked to find that Texas Bluebells were vanishing. What other Texas wildflowers are vanishing? There is an endangered species list but I want to help before my wildflower neighbors before t...
view the full question and answer

Bluebonnet Seeds
March 20, 2004 - Where can I get bulk quantities of Bluebonnet seeds?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.