Usually, by this time of year, I have cut back all but a few perennials I know birds feed on/like during the winter, and the garden is mulched and put to bed. Always followed this practice when we lived in Pennsylvania and am slowing learning about the unique conditions in the Pacific Northwest.
For some reason, this year, life has gotten in the way and we just haven't had time.
What we have noticed is an unusual numbers of bird congregating in the perennial garden behind the house. We have several families of pheasants and quail, as well as many of the migratory birds. We wonder if having left the perennials up for their "use" is the reason.
If there is no good horticultural reason to cut them back, then I am more than happy to leave all these perennials for a spring clean up and keep these birds happy and fed.
I know one reason to cut perennials back is to prevent the spread of soil based disease, but as far as I know, all our plants are healthy. Are there any perennials that should be cut back in this climate for reasons unique to this climate and the particular perennial/bulb/tuber?
Thanx in advance for any advice,
I think you've answered your own question - there is no need to tidy up the garden much at this time of year, and many benefits to leaving perennials and grasses alone until early spring. No doubt your garden is alive with quail and pheasants because you've left food and shelter for them.
Many perennials and shrubs, like hardy fuchsias and hydrangeas, benefit from not being cut back, for the old blossoms and stems help protect the plant from cold. Once plants collapse in a slimy heap, which happens sooner to hostas and later to perennials like coneflowers and helenium, it's time to clear them away. But as long as perennials and ornamental grasses are standing upright they offer structure and movement to the eye, as well as benefit for creatures. Right now I'm enjoying the tawny (well, okay, brown) but still upright stems of Oriental lilies for the height they add to the garden. Yesterday several stands of lilies were aquiver with flocks of little chickadees.
My own way of working with this is to get outside on any winter afternoon that offers a glimpse of sunshine, and clear up whatever looks so bad I can't stand it. Or better yet, work on tidying up whatever messy sight is in the sunshine at the moment. We have a very forgiving climate, and except for cleaning up any diseased leaves (especially from roses) and mulching more tender plants, there isn't too much that absolutely needs to be taken care of right now. Take your time, and leave that dying plant banquet for the birds to enjoy....
The leftover flower pods on the ligularia (right foreground) are special bird favorites...