To Cut or Not to Cut


That is the question.The one that’s asked every fall as you evaluate your landscaping, pruners in hand.

Perennials can get pretty ragged looking. Is it best to ignore the dead foliage and take care of it in the spring or should you take a big pruning shear to everything? Which perennials should you cut back and which should you leave standing?

Good question. The answer depends on the perennials in your landscaping.

While there isn’t a set of rules when it comes to cutting back perennials in the fall, we can offer you guidelines to get you started on putting your plantings to bed.


Minnesota Zone 3-5, Perennials to Cut Back

  • Bearded iris (Iris) – Cut back after a killing frost.
  • Beebalm (Monarda didyma) Cut back mildewed stems and keep new growth. The remaining seed heads can be used for birds to eat during the winter.
  • Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis)
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia grandiflora)
  • Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’)
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia) – Remove damaged leaves and debris.
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Golden Marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria)
  • Ground Clematis (Clematis recta)
  • Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis)
  • Ligularia (Ligulariadentata)
  • Lilyleaf Ladybell (Adenophoralilifolia)
  • Masterwort (Astrantia major) – Cut down if yellowing.
  • Meadow Rue (Thalictrumaquilegiifolium)
  • Mountain Bluet (Centaureamontana)
  • Painted Daisy (Tanacetumcoccineum)
  • Peony (Paeonia)
  • Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus)
  • Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
  • Plume Poppy (Macleayacordata)
  • Salvia (Salvia nemorosa)
  • Siberian Bugloss (Brunneramacrophylla)
  • Wild or blue false indigo (Baptisiaaustralis)
  • Yarrow (Achilleamillifolium and Achilleafilipendula)
  • Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea) – Cut back after a killing frost

It’s important to cut back and destroy (don’t compost) any diseased or insect-infested plant debris. This pruning keeps problems from carrying over into the following growing season.


Perennials That Add Winter Interest

Ornamental grasses add visual interest to your winter landscape. The feathered reed grass (Calamagrostis) and switch grass (PanicumVirgatum) add drama to an otherwise drab yard. Don’t forget to cut the grasses back in early spring to avoid damaging the new plant growths.

Some varieties of false spirea (Astilbe) provide green accents throughout the winter. Experiment with this plant for one year. Try letting it go and cutting it back in the spring.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Many perennials survive with no attention at all in the fall. Experiment with your landscaping. If it looks dead, cut it back. If it has the potential of visual interest, keep an eye on it over the winter.


Do you want to start a landscaping design (with plenty of perennials) for next year?

Contact us today for a free consultation at 651.755.7901

Posted in Blog.