With fall in full swing, most perennials have finished growing for the year and need to be cut back to prepare your garden for the next growing season. However, many perennials can be left standing to keep your garden healthy and beautiful through the cooler months. It’s simple with plant debris and annuals, which should all be pulled out when they wilt and blacken after the first frosts. But what should be cut and what should be left when cleaning up your garden this fall and winter? Here are some tips about which perennials to cut and which to keep this fall.
Perennials to Keep
Perennials That Promote A Winter Ecosystem: Many flowers, like black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers, provide seeds for birds like goldfinches during the cooler months, and may also provide cover for overwintering birds. In fact, native perennials provide shelter for many beneficial insects, including caterpillars and butterflies that will find protection in your garden during the winter.
Especially hardy perennials like mums, anise, and Montauk daisies should also be left through the fall, as they are more likely to survive the winter if they’re not cut back. But beyond the perennials that benefit the health of your garden and landscape, there are some that simply provide interest and keep your garden looking beautiful through the winter. These include grasses such as zebra grass and switchgrass, as well as some flowering perennials, such as the Siberian iris or the ‘Autumn Joy’, which provide appeal through their seed pods all winter long.
Perennials to Cut
Now that you have a better idea which perennials will do well to stay in your garden through the colder months, you can better keep an eye out for what to cut back this fall. It is important to cut back any plant with a disease or pest problem to avoid disease in your garden next growing season, such as phlox and bee balm which are known for powdery mildew. While you would normally compost the trimmings and debris from cutting back your perennials, be sure to destroy any clippings from diseased plants to avoid infection in your garden.
Though plants that provide shelter to beneficial insects and birds can be left in your garden this fall, certain perennials can give way to harmful slug infestations. These include peonies, speedwell, and daylilies. Just be sure to protect new growth when cutting back plants like the yarrow and globe thistle.
When cutting back your plants, use a power hedge trimmer or hedge clippers depending on the size of your garden and plantings. It’s also important to leave about two inches of the plant above the ground when cutting back perennials to avoid digging into them during the next growing season–especially if they’re plants that grow later in the season, such as the balloon flower and rose mallow. Lastly, wait until a few hard frosts to get your clipping done, as this will make it easier to get your fall yard clean-up done.
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