Best Time to Cut Back Plants – Ask the Expert

by Heather Kortokrax of Tru North Landscaping

To cut back or not to cut back…when is the best time for cut back on my plants?

When assessing your yard, which plants need to be cut back (cut to the ground) and which need to stay? And why? Our resident “plant lady” and landscape designer, Cysilia, gives us some great recommendations if you are looking to perform your own fall cut back.

When should I cut back and why?

Any herbaceous plants (perennials) can be cut back in the fall or in the spring. I always prefer fall  because often, if you wait until the spring the plant gets nasty and mushy over the winter. The other plus to cutting back in the fall is it prevents cutting any new growth in the Spring. If you wait until Spring to cut back your perennials, and then don’t do it right away, often times you’ll actually end up cutting off new growth when you cut back the old growth.

What should I cut back and why?

Nearly any plant that dies to the ground every year, perennials, herbaceous, whatever you choose to call them, can be cut back in the late fall and it will not hurt them; even if they’re still a little green. If you do cut a plant back in the fall, it is OK to leave about 3” or so above the ground. The only plants I would recommend not cutting back in the fall would be tall plants (grasses mainly) that you’d leave up for winter interest, although this is completely the homeowners’ preference. I usually cut the grasses down in the fall because although they give you something to look at in the first part of winter, by the end we’ve gotten so much snow that the grasses are broken and then difficult to cut back and just messy. If you cut grasses back in the fall, you can tie a rope around them and then cut them down tied up, making clean up easier. Some plants (bulb plants like Asiatic Daylilies) only get cut back halfway the plant as the plant sucks the nutrients back into the bulb from the stalk over winter. Trees tend to follow a different rule and we recommend you consult a professional as avoiding oak wilt and other disease is extremely important.

Anything else we should know Cysilia?

Ambitious people might want to save as much pretty in their landscape as they can; so, to do that you just cut plants back as they die out. Some plants look bad earlier–like daylilies, their leaves will turn yellow, so you can cut those back right away. Others, like grasses and Black Eyed Susans, will stay green longer. A benefit of cutting back in the spring? The foliage, although unpleasant after winter, does offer winter protection if you are located in a harsh environment.


Overall cut back in the fall is best. Spring is alright, as long as it is done RIGHT away. Feel free to cut back gradually or cut back all at once! Check out our examples and photos for how to prune back one type of hydrangea and some ideas for how to add interest in your fall/winter garden!  If you need help with your fall cut back, call our office today for a quote!

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