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Should I cut back my perennials for winter? High Country Gardens says to wait until early-mid spring, but that is contrary to what I have been doing. It is true that I suffer some loss each spring.

Answer(s)

A

 You can tidy up herbaceous perennials before winter, but it's best to leave most of the freeze-killed tops there until the coldest part of winter is past. Here in the Salt Lake area, that is about mid-March.  

If you want to cut them back in early winter, it won't really do any harm, except that the presence of the dead top acts to insulate the crown and roots from temperature swings from sunny winter days to frigid winter nights. Temperature swings can cause more freeze damage than if the plant stays continuously cold. The dead top also helps conserve soil moisture and prevents desiccation of any basal leaves that might stay green through winter(on the hardier species). So to compensate, you should cover the cut-back plants with an airy mulch, like chipped leaves or straw. This schedule may be a good alternative when you know you won't have time to
complete this task next spring.

Posted on 29 Nov 2007

Maggie Wolf
Horticulture Agent, Salt Lake County

Answer(s)

A

 You can tidy up herbaceous perennials before winter, but it's best to leave most of the freeze-killed tops there until the coldest part of winter is past. Here in the Salt Lake area, that is about mid-March.
   If you want to cut them back in early winter, it won't really do anyharm, except that the presence of the dead top acts to insulate the crown and roots from temperature swings from sunny winter days to frigid winter nights. Temperature swings can cause more freeze damage than if the plant stays continuously cold. The dead top also helps conserve soil moisture and prevents desiccation of any basal leaves that might stay green through winter(on the hardier species). So to compensate, you should cover the cut-back plants with an airy mulch, like chipped leaves or straw. This schedule may be a good alternative when you know you won't have time to
complete this task next spring.

Posted on 29 Nov 2007

Maggie Wolf
Horticulture Agent, Salt Lake County

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