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Last Perennials Standing: Adding Winter Structure to your Chesapeake Garden

The days we were urged to cut back perennials and “do the fall clean up” to prepare garden beds for winter are quickly disappearing. Modern advice: leave a layer of shredded leaves in beds rather than mulch; it’s more beneficial for soils and over wintering beneficial insects.  Don’t cut back perennials; leave stems for insects to inhabit and seed heads for birds to eat deep into the winter months.

There are some great native perennials you may want to leave standing, once you see what they do in winter.  Good for overwintering insects?  All the better.  Here are a few that are easy to grow and add winter structure, a plus for any Chesapeake garden!

allium cernuum fall

Nodding onion (Allium Cernuum), bordering this path, is the native version of the grand purple allium bulbs of early summer. These are smaller, a pale pink or white, and bloom toward the end of summer. En masse they really shine and are easy to grow. The stem and seed heads will carry through from fall to early winter or so.

Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) is one of those plants that is aways doing something good.  In spring, as blue green stems emerge and purple blue flowers follow, you’ll think, that is a great perennial. But there’s more! The foliage, stays fresh all summer; in fall, the seed pods are striking; and the stems stand through winter.

Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are also super hardy, year long workers. When there is nothing left but seed heads, they still strike a pose.

As leaves fall, evergreens and branching structures of shrubs and trees seem to step forward.  Perennials like these fill gaps and help critters winter over.  All good.

More information:

For a short, but in depth, article on fall clean-up of garden beds and more from two experts, check out this post from experts Joe Gardener and Margaret Roach.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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