Heirloom Expert: Fall Pruning

Is it better to prune perennials and the rest of the flower gardens in the fall or spring?

fall trimmings

You can bag up fall trimmings to take to a compost pile at the end of the growing season.

Photo by Fotolia/chihana

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I’ve got a gardening dispute going with my wife. She says cut everything down in the perennial flower garden at the end of the season, but I’ve heard to leave the plants alone until spring. Who’s right? Also, what should I do with my annuals and vegetables after the frost hits?

Nothing is scarier than the husband versus wife question! Let me start by saying there are a hundred different ways to do every garden job and if you find one that works for you, then it’s the right one. So in a way you’re both right (I’m a diplomat).

Now for the real answer, I leave all my perennials up at the end of the season. They provide food for the birds and other wildlife and provide habitat for beneficial insects. In my garden they get cut to the ground in late spring, usually the end of April.

If your wife can’t stand the way it looks, do yourself a favor and cut it all down (I’ve been married 32 years). You can feed the birds and leave another area wild for the good bugs, and now you can live in harmony. In the vegetable garden, everything which is not diseased goes to the compost pile. I like to clean up that garden so no bad bugs or diseases over winter. The same is true with most annuals. All I leave is what I think might self-sow. All those areas are put to bed with a nice layer of compost and some mulch to keep it in place all winter . . .