Cutting Back Perennials in the Fall

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November 6, 2008

Hands with pruning shears cutting back plant.Cleaning up the garden in the fall can be a bit confusing, especially when it comes to cutting back perennials. Should you leave them alone or cut them back as soon as they fade? The answer, of course, depends on the plant.


When to Leave Them Alone

In general, as long as your perennials look good, leave them alone. Sure, some may die back after the first heavy frost, but others will remain standing and add interest to the garden all winter long.

Advantages of leaving dried seed heads and foliage of healthy plants intact until next spring:

When to Cut Them Back

Certain plants benefit from being cut back in the fall. Rarely is this important aesthetically, but from a sanitary standpoint, it can make or break your next growing season. If insects or diseases attacked some of your perennials this year, the best thing to do is cut them back. This reduces the chances of carrying over attacks to the next season and eliminates over-wintering sites for rodents or harmful insects.

Make sure you dispose of damaged plant debris in the garbage and not the compost pile. Most perennials can be safely cut back to within a couple of inches of the ground.

Visibly damaged or infested foliage should be removed as soon as possible, but if you are cutting back foliage as a preventive measure, wait until after several hard frosts have killed back the tops. Depending on the plants, hand pruners, hedge clippers, or even scissors will work fine, just make sure the cutting edges are sharp.

Advantages to cutting your perennials back in the fall:


Apply Mulch After Cutting

If you decide to cut back your perennials in the fall, take the opportunity to apply some mulch before winter. With the stems and foliage gone from your plants, you will have plenty of room to maneuver. Applying mulch will help your perennials conserve moisture going into the winter, and protect the roots and crowns from cold damage and frost heaving.

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November 1, 2007

I now live where my perennials do well all winter and do not need much special preparation in the fall. When I lived in a colder clime, I found that they would come back the next spring if I took certain steps.


I always made sure the flowers were removed before the first frost.

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

September 16, 2013

Every fall, I'm unsure of what's best to clean-up perennials like Black-Eyed Suzies and cone flower or echinacea. Sometimes, the plants have not returned the following year.
How do I ensure I will have these plants the following season? Mass planting of rudbeckia.

Closeup of echinacea.

By Pat C


September 25, 20131 found this helpful

I cut-back both of these plants in the fall (Michigan).

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November 11, 20141 found this helpful

I live in zone 5. I leave purple cone flowers and other perennials in my garden until spring. I never have a problem with them coming back year after year. Hope this helps you.

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September 9, 20190 found this helpful

The black-eyed Susan will self-seed, ensuring plants next spring so don't cut back until seeds have had a chance fall from flower heads. Also, leave the seed heads to feed birds in the winter. Cone flowers should come back no matter when you cut them back.

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