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The end of the growing season is often a bittersweet experience for gardeners. It signals the end of months of work — but also marks the end of the splendid time when each day offers up something new, from the bold bloom of a rhododendron to the subtle emergence of flower heads on ornamental grasses.
The late-autumn and winter gardens do have their charms, and perennials can be very much a part of this four-season interest. While good garden tidiness dictates a thorough cleanup in the fall, there are some interesting plants that can be left standing, since even in their dormancy, they offer surprising delights for the discriminating eye.
The condition, stature, and overall appearance of plants in the winter depend greatly on how healthy they were during the growing season. Plants that were not watered during the drought or were attacked by disease or insects will surely not make worthy winter specimens. But healthy, well-tended plants, sited in their preferred environments, can turn out to be the unexpected treasures of the winter garden.
Grasses are key players in the late-fall and winter garden. The ones that retain their shape without collapsing under heavy snow loads or shattering their seed heads midwinter are especially valuable. Morning Light maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’), Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), Karl Foerster feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’), and most of the fountain grasses (Pennisetum alopecuroides) are favorites for four-season interest.
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