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Cutting Plants Back in the Fall

Should you or shouldn't you? Get the Test Garden's answer to the question everybody's asking!

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One of the questions that we get each year is whether or not to cut plants back. There's no hard and fast rule, but in general, you do wanna cut your plants back before next spring. Here's an example. I've got some lilies right here that are starting to die back. We've just had a frost here, so you do wanna wait until after the first frost before you cut your plants back. Cut them about 3 to 4 inches from the ground so you have a marker for next spring and you'll know right where your plant is. Take the cuttings and go ahead and compost them. There are some plants that you definitely wanna cut back, anything that has diseases on it or things that might recede into the garden. I've got an example of a plant here that's definitely diseased. This is a peony and each year, diseases get to them. You'll see these brown spots on the leaves. Go ahead and cut them back just as you would some of the other perennials, just 3 to 4 inches from the ground. But the difference here is you wanna toss these leaves rather than putting them in your compost bin. Just go ahead and throw them into your trash bin. Now I've got an example right behind me here of a grass that I like to leave standing in the garden. This is a zebra grass. It's real pretty right now in the fall. It's also gonna be really pretty this winter with snow all around it. It's also a great plant that collects snow around the base. The snow will be a great insulator for this plant. Besides leaving plants for winter interest like this grass over here, another great reason to leave plants standing is because they'll attract wildlife throughout the winter. For example, this aster right here. When these beautiful pink flowers die back, you'll have buds that are filled with tons of seeds, and finches just love to snack on these through the winter. So just remember, fall is a great time to get out into your garden and do some cleanup and you'll be ready to go next spring. And that's your Test Garden tip.