To Cut Back or Not to Cut Back?

When fall and Jack Frost roll around, should you cut back your perennials? The Test Garden has the answer!

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Generally, you do want to cut back your plants prior to the next spring -- but there are some exceptions. Here are some dos and don'ts to ensure healthy, thriving plants next season.  

DO cut them back if...

When lilies start to die back, you can cut them.

You've just had a frost, and the plant is starting to die back: Wait until after the first frost to cut plants back. Cut them about 3 to 4 inches from the ground so you can easily see where your plant is next spring. Feel free to compost the cuttings.

Peonies often get hit with disease. If they are showing brown spots, throw away the cuttings.

The plant is diseased: Cut it back the same way as you would other perennials, but throw out the cuttings. Mixing diseased leaves into compost can infect other plants!

DON'T cut them back if...

Grasses (like the zebra grass shown here) are insulated when snow falls.

The plant is a grass variety: Grasses add visual interest throughout fall and winter. They also collect snow around their bases, which provides insulation for the plant.

Aster seeds attract finches during the winter.

You want to attract wildlife: You can also leave plants alone to attract birds and other creatures to your yard throughout winter.

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