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Monday, January 21, 2008
Perennial Plant Pruning
Through a moment of lazy logic I decided to defy conventional perennial pruning practice. Decided is the wrong word...perhaps forgot to would be better! I even posted about the proper way to take care of mums including pruning several weeks ago when the mums were fading. Did I do what I said? Nope, sure didn't. Now I think that I did a good thing by not doing anything at all! Most people recommend that you trim back the mums to 3-5 inches in the fall after blooming. Not pruning them makes sense when you think about it. Mother nature knows best. Perennial plants in nature come back year after year with no one tending them, so why not do the same thing in the home landscape?
This was no great inspiration brought on to me through reading a book on perennials or an article in a newspaper. I was just too darn lazy to go out into the cold air to trim the dead growth off the plants. In fact I could have done it during our warm snap last week but by then I had decided not to bother with it. I think that trimming perennial plants before winter is mostly for aesthetics. Everyone wants their landscape to look great all the time but if you can stand to let go of the reins and let your plants do what nature intended you may benefit from it. I'm not advocating to never cut back your plants, but maybe waiting until spring is better for plants like chrysanthemums, echinaceas , rudbeckias, salvias, asters, and probably other several others.
Now why wait to prune? The dead sticks and leaves that hang around protect the base of the plant from direct frost damage. Sure it's still cold but the branches protect and shield the plant from too much cold. Despite sub-freezing temperatures our plants look ready to sprout new growth at a moments notice. Also by leaving the dead growth and seeds on the plants you provide habitat and food for birds and beneficial insects. It might even be dangerous for the plants to get pruned in the fall since some plants will respond to pruning by growing new growth which would get frost bit by the cold temperatures. In the future all of my perennials might just have wait until spring to get their trim.
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Dave is the author of Growing The Home Garden and runs a small nursery business growing vegetables and herbs for local customers in Spring Hill, TN. (Blue Shed Gardens or FB page). He has written for gardening publications, Troy-Bilt and Lowe's and is available for edible garden consulting. Dave gardens organically and when he isn't writing, collecting seeds, or propagating plants he's parenting his 4 children as a stay at home dad.