Cutting Back Perennials

Do you recommend cutting back all perennials before winter?

For many, the choice of whether or not to cut back all of their perennials is a question of aesthetics. I prefer to leave some of my perennials up through the winter to add texture to my garden. The faded foliage also provides shelter and, in some cases, food for the birds.

Some perennials actually overwinter better when the dead stems are left intact because the foliage helps to insulate the crowns.

I tend to cut back only those plants that I had disease problems with during the growing season. This helps prevent the disease for carrying over into the next spring. Or if I want to tidy up a certain area, I’ll remove dead foliage.

When I do cut perennials back I wait until my garden has experienced 2 or 3 killings frosts. This will ensure that the plant is really dormant. If there is some question I simply scratch the stem to see if it is still green underneath. If it is, I’ll wait a little longer.

I cut the plants back to about 2 or 3 inches above the crown. I don’t want to cut them back too hard because this may damage next year’s growth.

Then I simply throw the removed foliage into the compost bin unless the plant has been suffering from a fungus. If that is the case, it goes into the trash to prevent spreading the disease in my garden.