Forum home Plants

What do you cut back and when?

CraighBCraighB Posts: 738
edited October 2018 in Plants
Hi guys,

I am curious to know when you all cut back your plants? Autumn or Spring?

I know that things like penstemon and Salvia are better left until spring so that the foliage adds protection from frost. But what about things like hardy geraniums, Alchemilla Mollis etc



  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,699
    With Geraniums and Alchemilla Mollis, I would 'tidy' them up, which is, if the foliage looks tired or tatty, cut back and remove the foliage now. But, more than likely, if you don't do it now, nature tends to do it for you. The foliage will just wither away. In milder areas, the foliage may linger and end up looking crispy. Nothing wrong with tidying/cutting down in spring either. It's mainly the more tender plants or plants that don't like wet and cold - keeping some foliage on top helps to protect the base from excessive wet.
  • CraighBCraighB Posts: 738
    edited October 2018
    Well my Alchemilla, hardy geraniums and Astrantia look lovely at the minute because I cut back to the ground a month or so ago and it regrew with fresh foliage. So would it be better to leave them until spring?
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,053
    It's a bit of a trade off IMHO.
    Most folk have less to do in the garden now , than in Spring when it's ALL GO,so getting it done now means you have more time to get spring jobs done.
    Foliage left in place, does , as you say , offer some protection to the "crown" of the plant, however,  some plants, like alchemilla, are tough as old boots and don't need that protection, but might offer a lovely refuge for slugs and snails to overwinter. 
    Plants look lovely with frost on them, that's another consideration.
    In short, there's no "right" or "wrong" time to do it. Most of us fit it in when it suits our own time availablity / aesthetic considerations /weather conditions etc.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 83,943
    If it looks fine I’d leave it. It provides protection for the crown of the plants and a winter home for beneficial invertebrates, frogs etc. 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,053
    Another factor to consider is your soil. 
    If it's prone to becoming waterlogged, cutting back now means the sun and the wind can get to the soil and help dry it out a bit , conversely , on light, sandy soils, leaving foliage in place will keep the soil covered and help retain moisture.
  • PosyPosy Posts: 3,601
    If you live in an exposed, windy area, the wind and rain will flatten your plants and leave them in a soggy mess. This is not a good look and it's not so good for the plants, either. Slugs love it. In that case, cut away all the mushed up material and compost it.
  • raisingirlraisingirl Posts: 6,653
    edited October 2018
    Posy said:
    If you live in an exposed, windy area, the wind and rain will flatten your plants and leave them in a soggy mess. This is not a good look and it's not so good for the plants, either. Slugs love it. In that case, cut away all the mushed up material and compost it.
    I live in a cold, wet and windy place and I leave more or less everything until Spring.

    In Autumn I do 'regeneration' type things - I cut back plants if I'm moving or dividing them, which is something I do now. I take the seed heads off my agapanthus. I take cuttings or collect seeds from plants whose survival through winter is doubtful. I pull out weeds that are flowering and clear things like couch grass and nettles coming up in gaps between smaller plants, so I can get mulch onto the soil.

    Hardy geraniums (except Rozanne), astrantia, alchemilla were all cut back in August and they all now have new leaves and a few flowers. They'll die back naturally and I will leave them alone. Rozanne keeps flowering for a few more weeks yet, so I'll leave her be and only cut back in Spring.

    The soil and soil organisms are much better covered through the winter. I could cut everything back and mulch it all. But I have neither the money nor the time to mulch everything, so I let it mulch itself. There are slugs about, but I also find toads under pretty much any stone or overturned pot I pick up, so I don't feel inclined to try to deal with the slugs myself. If you walk down the rough bits of my garden at the moment, where the thistles and nettles and docks are still dominant, clouds of little birds fly up from under your feet as you go, stuffing their little faces with the seeds, to stock up for the winter. Nature hates tidiness. 

    The only exception is where I've cleared a new bit of soil (my garden is still more than half overgrown sheep pasture, which I'm slowly encroaching into). Because the native soil is heavy clay, I'll leave newly cleared areas open to the weather as the frost helps to break down the clay.
    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first” 
  • PosyPosy Posts: 3,601
    Well there you are - RG knows more than I do. However I find Spring bulbs do better without heavy cover and I do mulch most years. 
  • CraighBCraighB Posts: 738
    Wow thanks for so many replies and really helpful suggestions! Sorry it has took a while to reply, I've had a very busy few days.

    Well I have decided to leave cutting back most of the garden until spring. I do remember last year when it snowed thinking wouldn't it look lovely if the snow had settled on the plants rather than just flat ground.

    I also lost a couple of plants due to the frost's. So as some of you said the foliage will add some protection.
  • i am new to this and have Lythrum, Phlox, Namesia and Coreopsis in tubs in my back yard , they have all stopped flowing now and i would like information on how, then and how far to cut them back so as they will flower next year, can anybody help me please
Sign In or Register to comment.