How to prep your yard and garden for winter? Choose your own adventure.

There are a lot of garden questions this time of year that can be answered in completely opposite ways. Both answers are going to still lead to great results. Readers can make their own choice.

Take whether to cut down peonies. Some authorities, whatever that means, insist that you must not only cut back this year’s peony leaves and stalks, but remove them from the garden and even the property and most certainly never put them in the compost pile.

Then there are others, including me, for what that is worth, who not only suggest you leave peonies alone until spring, but actually do so. These are all organic, soil food web gardeners who let the peony biome deal with pathogens the clean-up group so fears. It may be different if you maintain a monoculture of peonies, as on a farm. If cutting them back means you won’t use any dangerous chemicals to control things on them if they do get diseased, go for it.

Then there is the what to do with tree leaves in the fall question. Alaskans converted from raking and bagging up all of ours and letting them fill the local landfills to not raking. No pun, but we have learned to leave them where they fall, save walks and decks, flat roofs and driveways.

Outside this year, the message is being trumpeted all over the news feeds. Suddenly leaves are good and should not be raked up. The difference in advice is whether to mow them over or let them be. I say you don’t have to cut them up into small bits. Others still insist you will smother the lawn. The choice is yours, though every time you mow, you pollute the air far more than driving long distances.

Going back to the idea of cleaning out peony leaves and stalks, there are two schools of thought about the rest of your perennials. Some cut things back while others prefer to leave them be until spring.

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Listen to the “Teaming with Microbes” podcast with Jeff Lowenfels and Jonathan White

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I side with the wait until spring group, as you probably guessed. Yes, I can do so with confidence as our well-established soil food web controls things that get out of balance. It is the visual impact during the winter, however, that seals the deal for me. Until the snow gets too deep, the seed heads and stalks present a winter garden look I would miss. So would the birds.

On the other hand, removing this year’s seed heads might makes sense if you have plants that are out of hand and invasive. Self-seeding annuals can wreak havoc. In any case, a good layer of compost and/or mulch is not an arguable thing. Even if you cut things back, no raking perennial beds. Fall leaves will not smother your flowers; rather they will feed the microbes in the soil responsible for feeding your plants.

Finally, can or should you plant grass seed this time of year? There are two streams of thought here. On the one hand, it takes about 14 to 21 days for all of a reseeded lawn to germinate. Frost will nip the germination process. The seed that doesn’t germinate, however, will lay dormant and germinate in early spring if we don’t have too many freeze-thaw cycles and do have a good snow cover.

We have already had frost where I live. If you have seed lying around, you might want to toss it onto the lawn and wait until spring. I say what is the hurry and would wait until spring. Like so many things when it comes to yardening, it is up to you.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: It may be winter but that doesn’t stop the intrepid staff of The Garden. Check for classes and events. And, of course, join!

Houseplants: Lights.

Cyclamen time: These are great plants that will bloom all winter long if you remove blossoms and their stems when the start to fade.

Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus: Move to a place without lights, preferably cool as well. This will initiate flower formation.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.