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What Plants Should I Cut Back in the Fall?

Wondering which, when and how much to cut back your garden perennials? Help is here!


Plants you should prune in the fall:

Now (November) through December is the perfect time to cut back grasses such as Russian Sage, Catmint, Black-Eyed Susan, Lavender, Butterfly Bush, Itea, and Hibiscus. Trim these plants to about 4-6 inches above the ground.


Some Hydrangeas such as PeeGee and Annabell can also be trimmed now, but others, such as Mophead, Lacecap and any Hydrangea whose flowers bloom on “old wood” should not be cut back in the fall. For an excellent infographic to help you identify hydrangeas and when to prune them, visit.


Plants you should avoid pruning in the fall:

Put off cutting back any spring blooming plants such as Forsythia, Azalea, Rhododendron, Lilac, Dogwood, certain Hydrangea (see above) and all flowering fruit trees. The buds for these plants are already set by fall, ready to bloom as soon as spring arrives. Cutting them now will only deprive you of spring blooms! The best time to cut back spring blooming plants is shortly after they flower.


Why cut back in the fall? Four good reasons:

  • Plant vitality – cutting back your plant in the fall gives it room to come back in the spring with healthy, more robust growth. This is particularly true for grasses. Dead grass blades are very sharp and damaging to delicate new shoots as they emerge.


  • Disease prevention – dead plant debris can function as a warm, welcoming spot for certain diseases, fungi, and overwintering insects. Keeping things clean and trimmed discourages fungal growth along with the likelihood of pests returning in the spring.


  • Aesthetics – there are a number of plants that add beauty to the winter landscape, particularly when dusted with new fallen snow…and then there are ones that just look sad and depressing, waiting for spring to return! Additionally, certain plants—particularly those that edge walkways and driveways—can be damaged from the weight of heavy snow piled on them.


  • Timing – spring is a busy time with post-winter cleanup, soil prep, etc. Getting a pre-season jump on some of these garden tasks in the fall, helps lighten the load of spring chores, giving you more time to do what you really want to do in the garden—plant!


Need more info on putting your garden to bed for the winter? Contact us here at Farmside Landscape & Design.