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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.