Winter care for perennials

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Q. Now that the peonies and hostas in the garden I acquired in the spring have done a melt-down, I’m wondering whether I should leave the top growth as a sort of protective winter cover. Or, should the dead growth be cleared away?

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A. These perennials don’t require winter protection. They are very cold-hardy plants. Cutting down top growth and thoroughly cleaning the root area are good sanitation measures the help to control pests and diseases. For the same purpose, I do not compost the top growth of either plant.

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I cut down peony stems when most of the foliage has wilted and turned brown in the fall. I make the cuts slightly beneath soil level, taking care not to damage the pink buds of next year’s growth lying close to the soil surface.

Both perennials benefit from a light liming and a shallow cover over top of a high quality compost.

Q. I am curious about “microgreens.” Are they the same as sprouts? What is grown, and how? Are they a good source of greens in winter?

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A. Microgreens, unlike sprouts, are grown in pots or flats of planting mix. Seeding a pot or two with microgreen seeds is an easy way to satisfy a desire for fresh, green, crunchy edibles in winter.

Most popular among the nutritious greens to grow in pots indoors are sunflower, pea, broccoli, amaranth, arugula and kale.

Be sure to use seeds not treated with any pesticide. Some garden centres sell seeds specifically for microgreen production. West Coast Seeds is another source.

Use a shallow container with drainage holes, and a planting mix suited for indoor use. Sow the seeds thickly on the dampened, firmed-down mix and cover with more of the mix.

Place the planting in the brightest light available. Keep the soil mix just modestly moist and as green growth emerges and produces leaves, harvest the greens using scissors, making cuts right above the soil line.

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