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13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

Pruning and cutting back—oh my, those two things can get you into trouble. When we moved into our farmhouse, I wanted to cut back everything that looked dead in the fall. Yet, through the years, I’ve learned how determinantal that can be and how waiting until the spring makes a huge difference.

I was so glad when I brought my first hydrangea plant home and planted it in my garden bed that I didn’t cut it back in the fall. Not because I didn’t realize you weren’t supposed to, but because winter came in full force, and I just didn’t get a chance to tend to the plants.

Little did I know hydrangeas are just one of the perennials you should not cut back in the fall.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

Let’s discuss the perennials that should not be cut back in the fall. While it may be tempting to tidy up your garden beds and remove all signs of plant debris, it’s actually beneficial to leave certain plants alone until early spring.

First on the list are native plants, such as black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers. These plants provide food and shelter for local wildlife during the winter months. Removing their flower heads or cutting back stems can disrupt this important ecosystem.

Next up are evergreen perennials, like garden mums and Shasta daisies. These plants maintain their green foliage throughout the winter, adding interest to an otherwise dormant garden. Cutting them back too early can leave bare spots in your garden beds.

Another exception to fall pruning is plants prone to powdery mildew, such as bee balm. The best time to remove dead foliage and flower stalks from these plants is in late winter or early spring. This will prevent the spread of disease and give the plant a fresh start for the following growing season.

rhododendron- perennials to not cut back in the fall

It’s also important to note that some perennials, like peonies and irises, form flower buds in the fall. Cutting back their foliage too soon can mean sacrificing those beautiful blooms come spring. Plus, who wants to miss out on the joy of seeing those first flower buds emerge after a long winter?

So, before you get too eager with your pruning shears in the fall, take a step back and consider the impact on your garden’s ecosystem and future growth.

Sometimes, a little messiness in the garden is actually a good thing. Plus, it gives us an excuse to put off yard work until spring – I’ll take any excuse I can get!

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

List of Perennials Not to Cut Back

Lilacs: Cutting them back in fall could mean sacrificing next year’s blossoms.

Rhododendrons and Azaleas: These spring bloomers store energy in their foliage over the winter. Cutting them back in fall can result in less vibrant blooms come spring.

Butterfly Bush: This popular garden plant produces new growth on old wood, meaning cutting it back in fall will result in fewer flowers next year.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

Forsythia: Like lilacs, forsythia blooms on old wood. Pruning in fall will reduce spring flowers.

Coneflower (Echinacea): The seed heads provide food for birds and add winter interest.

Globe Thistle (Echinops): Its striking structure offers winter beauty and seeds for wildlife.

Russian Sage (Perovskia): Best pruned in spring when new growth appears.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia): Leaving the stems up protects the crown and provides seeds for birds. If you skip fall pruning, these plants will reseed, providing new plants for next year.

Ornamental Grasses: They offer texture and movement in the winter landscape.

Sedum (Stonecrop): Their thick, succulent leaves can offer winter interest and protection.

Lavender: Pruning in fall can open it up to winter damage. Wait until spring.

Montauk Daisy (Nipponanthemum): Prune in spring for a bushier plant.

Hydrangeas: Depending on the variety, some should not be pruned until after they bloom.

Roses: Avoid pruning in the fall to prevent stimulating new growth that can be damaged by frost.

Mock Oranges: This fragrant shrub should not be pruned in the fall, as it can affect next year’s blooms. It is a pretty low-maintenance plant, but it will only flower on old wood, which is not what you want to chop off in the fall. Save your pruning for after it flowers in late spring or early summer, and enjoy the sweet scent and beautiful white blossoms.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

Tips for Fall Perennial Care

You can do many tasks during fall clean-up to prepare your garden for the following spring. Start by removing any old foliage or dead leaves from your perennial plants ( that are not on the list above).

This will not only improve the appearance of your garden, but also prevent any potential fungal diseases from overwintering and causing problems in the next growing season.

As you clean up around your perennials, it’s important to be gentle and avoid damaging any new growth or flower stems.

Late summers can be a time of transition, with some perennials still in bloom while others are starting to go dormant. Take note of which plants fall into each category and handle them accordingly.

One tip for cutting back perennial plants is to use clean garden shears or pruners. This will prevent the spread of any diseases or pests that may be on the blades.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

You can also use this time to divide any overcrowded perennials, which helps with their health and growth and provides you with new plants to spread throughout your garden.

But perhaps the most important task during fall clean-up is to take a moment to appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into your garden over the past season. It’s easy to get caught up in the tasks and forget to enjoy the beauty of your garden.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

So take a step back, breathe in the crisp fall air, and admire your plants’ vibrant colors and textures before they go dormant.

And don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done! Treat yourself to a pumpkin spice latte or some apple cider as you relax and reflect on the joys of gardening. After all, it’s not just about having a perfect garden but also enjoying the process and finding joy in nature.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or new to the hobby, fall clean-up is an essential part of preparing for the next growing season. With these tips and reminders, your garden will be ready to thrive again come springtime.

13 Perennials You Should Not Cut Back in the Fall

Quick Fall Clean Up Tips:

  • Proper Watering Techniques: Ensure your plants, especially the newly established ones, are well-hydrated before the ground freezes to support them during the winter dormancy.
  • Mulching Benefits: A layer of mulch around your perennials can help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, suppress weeds, and prevent erosion. Organic mulches can also break down, enriching your soil over time.
  • Soil Protection Methods: Consider creating windbreaks and covering vulnerable plants with burlap to prevent desiccation from harsh winds. Avoiding foot traffic over garden beds can also protect roots and soil structure.

Perennials are the backbone of any long-term garden plan, and treating them right in every season ensures they’ll be back to dazzle you come spring. By understanding the specific needs of each plant in the fall, you’re not just protecting your investment but enriching the ecosystem of your garden and the wider environment.

Remember that every plant is different; it’s always a good idea to do your research or consult with a local horticulturist or botanist. Happy gardening, and may your perennial beds flourish now and into the next growing season!

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