Learn about the benefits of pruning perennials in the spring instead of the fall. This means allowing the seed heads and old growth to stay throughout the winter.
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.
Here’s my secret. Most of my perennials don't get cut back in the fall. I leave pruning perennials until late winter or early spring when winter is coming to an end, and it's warm enough to get outside and garden.
I’ll be honest by the end of fall 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. This is just about the time I can start to see new signs of new life.
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.
Here's What the Experts Say
In this article from 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.”
Another article from 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.”
When You Should Prune in the Fall
As mentioned above, I will definitely cut back this peony foliage. It looks bad and appears to have a little fungus issue going on.
I'll check for any other plants that have a lot of mildew or pest issues and cut them back too.
However my typical routine for any normal, healthy-looking perennial, means waiting until late winter or next spring to prune.
P.S. Instead of prunning perennials late in the season consider this list of Fall Garden Dos & Don'ts, or this article about Planning Next Year's Garden. You can find them and many more helpful ideas on my Gardening Page.
I'm glad to read that pruning later in winter is good for pollinators! I'm also usually done with gardening by late fall so any excuse to delay a task is welcome. 🙂
I'm right there with you! By the end of the season, I'm so tired of working out in the garden. I always feel like I need a break. I devote all of my garden time to planting bulbs, and not always cleaning. I'd rather the wildlife have something to enjoy. I also agree with you how you cut back anything diseased looking. If it could have negative ramifications on my garden health, out it goes! Awesome article Patti & such great info!
Glad to hear from another like minded gardener. Bulbs are something I sometimes forget about too so thanks for the reminder.
I usually trim back all my plants in the fall. My hubby hates to see them looking messy and so we try get it done in late fall. But we do leave a few plants to trim in the spring too. That way it's spread out and not too much work all at once.
I totally get that some people, even husbands, like it neat. You idea of splitting up the job is a smart one too.
I'm with you and leave most ornamentals to prune in the late winter - except for peonys like you since that fungus is worse if it's left longer. It all depends on when I get tired of looking at all the brown hydrangea blossoms, ha!
I get it. Sometimes the view needs a little sprucing up.
Yay! I'm terribly lazy about Fall pruning. I am so relieved to know it's a benefit to wildlife to keep the deadheads on til Spring. We have huge bird population and maybe the old dead growth will support and attract them more closely. Thanks so much!
I'm so glad you like this method. To each his own but I do think the birds will like it.
Great info -Down south everything is based around temperature because they fluctuate at the drop of a hat. So I actually trim both seasons but some have to be done right after that frost because they look pitiful but now I might have to rethink some of that... However with that being said my blackberries are done right after they finish producing fruit. I take it on a plant to plant basis..
That totally makes sense for your area and what you are growing. Just part of experiencing gardening in your own space and doing what seems right for you.
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.
We all lose plants. No worries. Hopefully some of these tips will help.
Thanks for stopping by,
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
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.
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 🙂
I totally agree. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy your week.
JO Ann Miller
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
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: http://www.hortmag.com/weekly-tips/dividing-peonies-in-the-fall.
thank u so much for this info
You are very welcome. Thanks for stopping by,