Pruning Perennials: Fall or Spring?

Do you cut back your perennials every fall? Maybe you’re a neat and tidy person, who cannot stand the idea of messy foliage past its prime. Maybe you’ve been taught that pruning perennials in the fall is the correct way to prepare your garden for next year.

Learn whether you should be pruning perennials in the fall or spring.

Well here’s my secret. I don’t trim my perennials in the fall. I leave that chore until the early spring, when winter is coming to an end, and its warm enough to get outside and garden.

Learn whether you should be pruning perennials in the fall or spring.

I’ll be honest by the end of summer I’m tired of tending to the garden. We usually have some great weather in the fall, but it is often short-lived followed by cold and snow. However, by March, I can’t wait to get out and clean up the garden beds and start looking for signs of new life.

Learn whether you should be pruning perennials in the fall or spring.

So, is this a bad thing? I did some research and found out that many well-known gardeners follow my practice of late winter pruning. In this article from the The Royal Horticultural Society the writer states, “Cutting back herbaceous perennials during autumn restores order and tidiness to the garden. However, this removes potential winter interest, in the form of height and structure, plus food and habitat sources for wildlife.”

Learn whether to cut back your perennials in the fall or spring.

Another article from the Purdue University’s Horticultural Extension examines exactly this question, “Cut back perennials, now or later?” Here the writer also agrees that there are many benefits of leaving perennials for winter interest and shelter for wildlife, however she also notes that any diseased or pest ridden plants should be dealt with sooner, rather than later.

Finally, in this last article from Martha Stewart Living, the writer states, “Perennial plants need to be cut back each year, but when you choose to do it depends on your gardening style.”

Learn whether you should be pruning perennials in the fall or spring.

So I will definitely cut this peony foliage, which looks fungus ridden, now, but my style for any normal, healthy looking perennials means waiting until spring to prune.


Learn whether you should be pruning perennials in the fall or spring.

About Patti Estep

Patti is the creator of Hearth and Vine, a home and garden blog filled with projects to inspire your creative side. She loves crafting, gardening, decorating and entertaining at her home in Pennsylvania. When she is not working on a project at home or searching for treasures at nurseries and thrift stores with her girlfriends, you’ll probably find her with family and friends, at a restaurant, or home party enjoying new and different food adventures.

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  1. thank u so much for this info

  2. JO Ann Miller says:

    I have a large peony bush that as ju d t bloomed constantly since ealy spring. It was a bare root division pl a nt I had I ordered online last year and just planted this past spring . It has really grown in width in every direction and is quite top heavy but I think I remember the paper thT came with it said to wait for two to three years before deviding. I was suppose to be probably at least a three year old plant that it came from. I would like to know if I should go ahead and device it or possible just dig a big whole around it without disturb the root and just move it farther back in the bed since it hs grown so much and fast it now hangs outside of the bed a lot. I know that they are suppose to have the branches cut back considerably after blooming ,but as large as it grown this one season it will be totally hanging out of the bed onto the lawn next spring if I don’t do something. I am afraid to do much of anything in fear of messing up the blooming fir next spring and am not really sure how to device the root if it does need to be done. This is my first peony and it has been gorgeous and I sure don’t want to lose it. Please advise. Thank you

    • Hi JoAnn,

      How lucky are you. I love peonies. They are probably my favorite. Peonies are supposed to be divided in the fall, though I’ll admit I have divided them in the spring. I would suggest that you go ahead and move it now. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind. It’s better to dig the new hole twice as large but no deeper than the root ball of the existing plant. Also, peonies tend to like being planted shallow rather than deep. Here’s good link about dividing them:

  3. Thank you for sharing helpful info on this. I’m always wondering what other gardeners do when it comes to pruning plants. When I first started gardening, my approach was to prune everything back in the fall. Now, I tend to think about the wildlife and pollinators who seem to enjoy my uncut plants. After my daylilies and hostas bloom, I often notice dragonflies enjoying the parts of the plant that have past their prime. Now I tend to do a small cleanup in the fall, and then the rest in spring that way I don’t get overwhelmed. Hope you are having a wonderful week 🙂

  4. roylene fischer says:

    I have a very large Hydragage (spelling) , it has always blooms all year, but this year it only bloomed in the spring. I did cut it back last fall as it is so large it takes over the little space I have. Should I not prune it in the fall and if not when would be a good time to transplant it. Thank you


    • Hi Roylene,

      If your hydrangea is a macrophylla then it probably blooms on old wood which could be the cause of limited or no blooms. These types of hydrangeas have big leaves and large flower heads with the nickname mopheads. It’s best to only prune as needed. If it is getting too large try pruning individual canes down to the base instead of pruning all around. Transplanting is tricky but I like to transplant this kind of bush in the very late winter or very early spring around April here in Pennsylvania. If you live somewhere very different from me that may change and the best thing to do is ask someone at a local nursery. Good luck.

  5. Mary Minard says:

    Now it all makes sense, I violate 4 of the 7 rules so that explains why I’ve lost more than 1 or 2 plants over the years lol. Thanks for setting me straight — I can do better.

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