En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Cutting Back Perennials in the Fall?

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - November 13, 2013

From: Rockville, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Seasonal Tasks, Wildflowers
Title: Cutting Back Perennials in the Fall?
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

We have large beds of flowering native perennials that we planted around our house as part of a landscape conservation plan (various Joe-Pyes, goldenrods, turtlehead, blazing star, brown-eyed Susans). Fall is upon us in Montgomery County, MD, and we see lots of birds having a great time kicking around in the leaves from the trees that are littering the beds. In the past we've cleaned the beds out down to the mulch layer before winter, but I'm starting to wonder if this is best for the plants and animals. Do we have to clean out the tree leaves before winter to keep the plants healthy? Can we leave them, or will this promote too much disease?

ANSWER:

The only parts of the garden that really need to be cleaned up well (down to the mulch or even replace this too) are any area around a seriously diseased plant. While native plants are generally disease and pest free, some problems like powdery mildew on phlox, leaf spot on bugbane, or overwintering leafminer on gaillardia could be serious enough to harm the plants. In this case all the affected foliage should be removed so that the fungus spores or insect eggs and pupa do not overwinter.  For the rest of the garden, healthy woody perennials can often be left intact or pruned to 6 inches for the winter.  Any seeds or insects still on the plant will be welcome food for the wildlife and the uncut stems will help collect insulating snow around the plant and give it extra protection as well as mark where the plants are located next spring.
Any fleshy perennials though (like touch-me-nots) should be removed in the fall since they will turn into a mushy mess after the first frost.
Leonard Perry of The University of Vermont Extension has posted a good information sheet on Fall Perennial Care online.

 

From the Image Gallery


Joe-pye weed
Eupatoriadelphus maculatus

Ohio goldenrod
Oligoneuron ohioense

Pink turtlehead
Chelone lyonii

Ontario blazing star
Liatris cylindracea

Black-eyed susan
Rudbeckia hirta

Fall phlox
Phlox paniculata

Firewheel
Gaillardia pulchella

Jewelweed
Impatiens capensis

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Red maple a casualty of Hurricane Ike in Houston
November 21, 2009 - We have a 3 year old Drummond Red Maple, between the sidewalk and the street in front of our house, that fell during Hurricane Ike. We replanted it. I recently noticed that the bark is severely cracke...
view the full question and answer

Brown dead spots on arborvitae in Hillsboro OR
October 12, 2009 - Hello. I live in Hillsboro, OR and have several mature arborvitae as a privacy screen in my backyard. They are on our side of a black chainlink fence separating our yard from a drainage area maintaine...
view the full question and answer

Esperanza with rust spots in Corpus Christi, TX
November 30, 2009 - I have a young esperanza plant and the leaves have what looks like rust spots all over them. What is the cause of this and what can I do for it? My other larger and older esperanza does not have this....
view the full question and answer

Suffering Yaupon in Austin
July 14, 2012 - I am in the Austin area and I planted a Pride of Houston Yaupon in my back yard in March. It is in full sun. Lately the leaves have been turning pale green and now they fall off the tree upon touchi...
view the full question and answer

Navel orange disease problems
November 14, 2007 - I live in Glendale, Arizona. I hav a mature miniature navel orange tree. This year it has lost a considerable amount of leaves. Also the fruit all has a large yellow spot. It looks pitiful. What shoul...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center