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eupatorium maculatum atropurpureum Cut back ?

I am trying find out what plants to leave and which to "cut back"  but none of the on line advice say to what degree do I  "cut back".  For example the above. Some do say cut to the ground which is easy to follow but is "cut back" any different ?

Do I cut back to the ground,  a metre above ground or what ? I am referring  to all plants. Is there a general rule or do I have to try find out how to cut each one back differently. I am looking at the above plant which I am advised to "cut back"  So please help. 


  • punkdocpunkdoc Sheffield, Derbyshire border.Posts: 11,922
    Any perennial would be cut back to the ground, although it is a good idea to leave as many as possible until late Winter, early Spring, because they provide good habitats for overwintering critters.
    Slightly tender plants such as Penstemons should also be left until Spring.
    I don't touch any Salvias until Spring either.
    He calls her the chocolate girl
    Cause he thinks she melts when he touches her
    She knows she's the chocolate girl
    Cause she's broken up and swallowed
    And wrapped in bits of silver
  • Herbaceous perennials like eupatorium, die off above ground in winter and it's this old growth you cut back (best done in spring like punkdoc suggests). Removing this old material allows room for the new growth to grow up.

    Cutting back often refers to reducing the height of plants when in growth. There are various reasons for doing this, such as bushing out and encouraging more flowers, or to delay flowering till later on (the Chelsea chop for instance).

    So simply if the plant dies back to the ground in winter you can remove the dead material, normally when you begin to see regrowth so you know where to cut in spring.
    If the plant doesn't die completely back like shrubs or some perennials such as penstemon, then you can trim off the dead material or prune back to where you want for size. Some shrubs flower on last year's wood so cutting them would mean you get no flowers, while others are spurned on to better flowering by trimming, so it's very species dependant.    
  • Thanks for both sets of advice. What confuses me is the advice to "cut back", for example, Black Barlow and Primula Florindae as well as Eupatorium in October/November which look very much alive.  I am tempted to leave the lot till spring and cut down the old plants unles they are shoing signs of new life
  • The eupatorium should be fading into winter in November unless we have good weather and you are reading advice which is essentially trying to keep your garden tidy whereas more modern thinking is to leave this dead matter as home for insects or for the seeds to feed the birds. Some plants also benefit from their dead stems as it provides a little extra protection from a cold harsh winter which punkdoc has suggested above with the salvia example, the framework of little twigs believe it or not can be the different between one overwintering successfully and one not making it.

    Aquilegia and primula can get scruffy and again cutting them back can just tidy them up or stop them self seeding everywhere. If you cut the aquilegia back after they have flowered you can get them to repeat flower later on in the year when they normally wouldn't, this is because you stop them using their energy on seed production and instead they try to, re-flower. 
    Aquilegia and primula also flower early in the year so cutting them back now can improve them for a normal flowering time next year but many of us don't bother. 
  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 3,422
    I have a lamentable habit of digging up overwintering plants by accident so I always leave a good few inches of old stems to remind me where they are. However, I do cut back dead matter because in my windy, wet garden, most material is quickly flattened into a mush harbouring slugs and snails. 
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 6,625
    I leave most of my perennials until spring unless they get completely flattened, and usually start cutting back with the ones that would block my view of the spring bulbs that are coming through, so the ones that have the snowdrops, crocuses etc in amongst them get done first
  • LoxleyLoxley NottinghamPosts: 4,622
    My rule is if it stays standing it gets left, if it collapses or looks a sight then I'll tidy it up. Then cut the lot back once buds start to appear in spring. I would never cut Eupatorium back as it seems to stand up well over winter and looks nice with a bit of frost.
  • I like the replies. It is pouring with rain and turning cold. I can now stay inside until the spring with a clear conscience that I am not damaging the plants.   Great. Thanks   
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 47,145
    I do as @Loxley describes. Many plants look pretty horrific here at this time of year because of weather. If something was iffy in terms of hardiness, I would leave foliage on, but I don't grow too many plants like that.
    Seedheads look horrible usually, so many of those would be taken off, and certainly spent flowers. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • PerkiPerki Rossendale - LancashirePosts: 2,213
    Eupatorium is one of the few plants I do leave , the seed heads look well for a while and not to bad with a frosting .

    Eupatorium bottom left
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