Maintenance Tips for Perennials Shrubs and Trees

Enclosed are some maintenance guidelines to help the beginning gardener care for their plant materials. With new products coming on the market, and regional differences, this list is not all-inclusive, but should point the beginning gardener in the right direction for your zone. Remember any garden is only as good as the soil in which it is planted.


  • Pruning tools: Hand pruner, lopping shears, small saw, hedge shears, and sharp garden scissors
  • Other necessities: Sharp shovel, flat shovel, garden rake, garden fork, small hand tools, wheelbarrow, backpack sprayer, hoses, sprinklers, and a good perennial reference book
  • Personal necessities: Sunscreen, bug spray, good gloves, hat, water bottle, and work shoes


  • Cut back all perennials to ground level that where left in place through the winter months.  Rake up or blow out left over leaves from previous fall. Iris needs special attention at this time. Cut back old leaves and clean them down to the rhizome. Do not mulch. Remove any soft or rotting rhizomes and check for Iris bore. Discard or compost the old foliage and leaves.
  • Unwrap evergreens.  Spray with deer repellent if necessary.
  • Start annual seeds indoors in late March or early April.
  • Pull back mulch materials for spreading plants to allow them to mature. If the garden needs it, add mulch materials at this time for weed control and moisture retention. There should not be more than 3” of wood mulch on your plant material, and never piled on the trunk of trees.
  • Divide large perennials and transplant as they crown the surface of the soil.
  • Transplant any deciduous shrub before it breaks dormancy.  Water thoroughly.
  • Selectively prune back ornamental trees, and some types of shrubbery.  (See enclosed list)  Dormant sprays can be used at this time to help alleviate diseases in ornamental trees.
  • Fertilize plant material. Use specialized fertilizers for roses, evergreens, rhododendrons, and azaleas.
  • Fertilize perennials once per month, and trees and shrubs up until July.
  • Use systemic herbicides around ornamental shrubs and trees.
  • Put down slug bait around hostas or ground covers if necessary.
  • Apply pre-emergent to areas that you don’t want weed seeds to germinate in. This will have to be repeated several times during the year.
  • Pull or spray weeds immediately as they begin to grow.
  • Plant annuals and vegetables after danger of frost.
  • Make sure garden stays properly watered once coming out of dormancy.
  • Prune evergreens after new growth has grown.
  • Put cages over the areas where perennials need additional support.


  • Prune  spring flowering shrubs after they bloom such as: rhododendrons, azaleas, forsythia, etc…
  • Until the end of June, pinch back perennials that bloom later in the summer and need to fill out.
  • Cut off all spring flowering bulb leaves that are yellowing.
  • Spray deer or rabbit repellents as needed.
  • Remove seedpods from spring flowering perennials after they are done flowering to help stop seed production and encourage root growth.
  • Stake tall unstable perennials for support.
  • Continue a fertilization program.
  • Make sure gardens stay watered.  Early morning is the best time to water.
  • Keep up with the weeds, by pulling or spraying.
  • Divide spring flowering perennials.
  • Be on the “look-out” for insect or disease damage and treat appropriately.
  • “Dead head” all summer flowering perennials to prolong blooming season.
  • “Cut-back” all plant material that is yellowing and going dormant.
  • Harvest vegetables as they ripen.
  • Pick flower bouquets.


  • Some people like the interest perennials can lend to the landscape during the long winter months and leave the “clean up” go until spring.  Others can’t tolerate the “messiness”. There is no right or wrong way. Cleaning up the gardens in the fall helps eliminate a host of seeds from germinating the following spring. So if you don’t want your perennials going to seed, cutting them back in the late fall and composting the debris is the best thing to do. It also sets a nicer stage for spring flowering bulbs.
  • Dig up annual bulbs such as, dahlia and canna, and winter over in a brown paper sack filled with dry moss. Store in cellar until next spring.
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils.
  • Divided summer flowering perennials until about the middle of September.
  • “Prune back” summer flowering shrubbery.
  • Water plant material thoroughly before the winter sets in. Evergreens really appreciate this extra effort.
  • Cover tender perennials and bury roses after the first hard frost.
  • Take in accessories and pottery for winter protection.
  • Spray “wilt proof” and boxwood, rhododendrons, and evergreens to prevent winter moisture loss.
  • Protect young tree trunks from deer and rodents by covering with a tree wrap.
  • Wrap evergreens in burlap that might get damaged by the sun or deer during the winter months.


  • Look at seed catalogs. Take gardening seminars. Stay in shape so you can garden next spring!

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