Here at Crystal Bridges, people often ask “how we stay busy throughout the winter season?” Well, one momentous task recently accomplished by the Trails and Grounds team and Avant-Gardener volunteers is the winter perennial cutback. We began this yearly task back in early November, but with the erratic weather, our procedural act took considerably longer this year! The gardens surrounding the Museum contain nearly 200 different types of perennials, amounting to nearly 30,000 planted perennials!! Now, you can understand our team’s elation once this task was finally complete. Throughout the process people often raise concerns about “why” we cut back. Considering that these native perennials grow and thrive on their own merit throughout the Ozarks—without any crazed gardeners running about pruning the woods, either… So “why” then: our primary reason is aesthetics. If we gardeners left the dead material on these 30,000 plants, Museum Management might have something to say similar to the Queen of Hearts depicted here!! (Point of Fact: Scott Eccleston, Crystal Bridges’ Director of Facilities, Trails and Grounds, looks nothing like the Queen of Hearts…–LD)
Secondly, plant health; when the dead/dying foliage or blossoms hang on, this causes the plant to constantly expend energy to these fleeting parts. Instead, we recommend cutting herbaceous perennials’ blooms, stalks, and leaves all the way to the ground (be Cautious of bright green, new growth, though). In return, this act redirects energy to continued root development and new growth. We then round up all our “cuts” and throw them in our compost because they’re chock-full of rich organic matter! This matter will break down over time (depending on several variables) and eventually windup back on the beds at a later date.
Definitely worth noting is the fact that if you choose not to cut back your perennials and instead adopt a more naturalistic approach to gardening, these spent blooms and flowers will simply fall to the ground and decompose, directly feeding the beneficial nutrients back to the plant. Just like in nature. Ohh, perennial cutback may be complete, but we still have all those native grasses to attack next! Sincerely, Sam