Cutting 'Stuff' Back :)

julia_123(zone5/Indiana)June 15, 2005

All right, this is my 2nd year of gardening but this is such a newbie question. :) I've been reading in these forums about different plants, and lots of time people say, "I cut my perennials back in the fall..." or whatever. Number one, how do you know WHAT of all of your plants and shrubs needs to be cut back? And two, how far back do you cut them? And when? And does EVERY flower get deadheaded when the flower dies? I guess I could research each plant individually but I'll list what I have here and if anyone has had any experience with any of these plants, that would be great. I realize that this is a very long question. Thanks!!!


Dwarf Lilac

"Regular" Lilac


endless summer hydrangea




bleeding heart


english maiden



russian sage


purple coneflower

painted daisies

african daisies

mexican primroses

scarlet runner


morning glories

misc. irises and lilies

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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

When you deadhead a plant you take off the undeveloped seeds and the plant works to replace them by way of new flowers. You do this to prolong a display of a particular species.

If you don't mind a shorter flowering season and you are not determined to have a highly groomed garden then you don't need to deadhead every flower. And some you wouldn't touch because you really want to enjoy the seedpods as well as the flowers eg Sutherlandia whose pods look like little ducks.

On some of your shrubs taking out the spent flower heads can get buds lower down started into action so that next year you have more branches ready to flower for you.

Plants that die back to a rosette for seeing out the winter can have their old stems removed to leave the garden tidy for the winter. If those plants have seeds the birds like you may want to leave them to provide winter food. If they look rather nice when the frost's on them you may want to keep them to provide some winter interest in your garden. If it all goes under snow, trimming back means that you've less to do in spring.

In this zone we usually leave the last flowers on the roses to go to rosehips. That way the plant starts getting ready for winter. We provide a good potash fertiliser to help harden the wood and protect against frost damage. If this seed crop is removed the plant starts in to grow another set of flowers and will be too tender to withstand frosting.

Hope that gets you started.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 10:19AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Viburnum Only prune to shape or make the bush smaller. prune individual stems almost to the ground....never use hedge trimmers.....cut each stem individually.
Dwarf Lilac as above....but you may want to carefully remove the spent blooms...or not the plant won't care.
"Regular" Lilac same as above
snapdragons cut the whole bloom stalk when 1/2 of it is dead blooms
endless summer hydrangea blooms on new wood....cut the flower heads off after blooming
sedum depends on what kind
roses there are whole books written on rose pruning...for starters, just cut off the bloom....then read and see just where to cut
foxgloves cut the bloom stalk off.....but leave one on one plant for reseeding
bleeding heart Ignore will die back and fall to the ground when it's ready.
sunflowers Cut or pull out when frost comes....the birds will eat the seeds
english maiden these must have a real name...don't know that one
columbine cut off the individual seed heads and cut the bloom stalk to the ground when it's through....don't cut the leaves back.
hollyhocks When the stalk is done blooming.cut it to the ground.
russian sage ignore it during the summer....cut only the dead stuff in the spring after it has started to grow.
zinnias cut off the dead flowers.....and pull the plant when frosted
purple coneflower as above..but don't pull the plant
painted daisies cut the dead bloom...the whole stem
african daisies as above
mexican primroses need the botanical name on this
scarlet runner do nothing
clemantis cut the dead vine back to about 18 inches in the very late March first
morning glories Tear them out when done
misc. irises and lilies cut off the dead bloom, stalk and all.
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 10:24AM
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Thank you, that is so, so helpful!!!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 10:50AM
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justmetoo(z5 IL)

You need to know which clematis you have, prune 1, 2 or 3. They have different pruning methods for the types.

Side note--Your Endless Summer Hydrangea is the one that blooms on new and old wood. You might ask over on the Hydrangea forum how they find pruning it is working best for them--I have not tried this one, I just kept trying to get blooms on the older types until I got the winter protect right.

What kind of rose? Indiana zone 5 may have to winter protect depending on type. I just put in a Blushing Pink Knockout ( shrub rose) and many on the rose forum are saying to let it self clean the blooms during the summer and that cutting them off slows blooms on this one. Don't know about that myself yet.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 2:40PM
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I'm not sure what kind of was on sale for $2 at Walmart. It was supposed to be a pale cream colored climbing rose, but now I have one bright pink bloom!! :)

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 2:46PM
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justmetoo(z5 IL)

Pink instead of cream, hope it's a pretty pink. My grandson presented me with two Pink Peace Hybrid Tea last year, but I really got two Mr. Lincoln---they are pretty and he's proud he gave them to me. My own purchase of roses this year I went to a nursery and got ones with a metal tag so I would not be surprised again.

To name your climbing rose you could try a photo post on the rose forum, they are pretty good at knowing the names of the roses.

here is a link to a BRIEF eplaination on wintering roses , you may make it through without doing anything at all though--you'll also want to learn from those growing roses in your area. My mother has a lovely yellow climbing rose and she does nothing to it (northern illinois area zone 5)

the www bit then

if you can't find it, just do a google on winter protection for roses and check your library for books. Linda is right, your library probably has book after book on just roses.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 3:33PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Julia,

You're going to find varying opinions about many of these---if you posted some of them on the perennials forum, you'd probably get a half dozen different opinions for any one plant, so don't worry too much about it--try different things and see how you like the result. Here's what I do with some of mine.

Snaps, I leave the seed develop and shake it around where I want more to grow next year--I get free plants, and, since they cross pollinate, it's always fun to see what colors come up.

Groundcover sedum, with most of them, if they're getting to straggly or ratty looking I cut them almost the whole way down to the ground--it takes a little while, but most of them come back with beautiful new foliage. After they bloom is the best time to cut them or you may not get any flowers for a whole year.

Upright sedum, leave the dried flowers on for winter interest. If they get ratty looking over winter, cut them all the way down--if they stay looking good, cut them down in spring.

Bleeding heart--old-fashioned bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, I cut down everything as soon as the foliage starts to yellow at all. D.s. goes dormant in summer when it gets too hot out, and some people leave the foliage on until it's completely yellow.

Columbine, I deadhead as soon as the petals fall off--individual flowers first and then the whole stem all the way down, but lots of people like to leave the seed develop to either drop naturally or to sprinkle where they want more plants. Columbines also cross pollinate, so you won't know what color the new plants are until they bloom. If my columbine foliage gets powdery mildew or looks bad for any other reason, I cut it all the way down to the ground--it regrows very quickly and looks great again.

Hollyhocks, I keep individual leaves cut off as they look bad, and after they're done blooming I cut most of the stems all the way down, but leave some on for seed which I scatter where I want it. They, too, cross pollinate. After I get my seed, if the foliage looks bad--and it usually does--I cut it all the way down to get new foliage.

Russian sage I cut down about 1/3 when it's about a foot high in spring to help develop stronger stems so it will stay more upright and give me a fuller plant. Most plants I cut down to the ground in fall, but Russian sage I leave at least several inches of old wood on over winter and cut it back in early spring as soon as I can see new growth. (I leave some old growth on Agastache and Gaura until spring too.)

Coneflower and painted daisies I cut the dead flower stems all the way down. You may want to leave coneflower seed develop to use later.

Iris and lilies, cut the dead flower stems all the way down.

Whenever you're deadheading, cut as far down as you can without cutting off good flowers or buds. When there are no more buds left, cut the stem all the way down. On almost everything, if you leave part of the stem on, it will continue to brown and look bad and you'll need to go back and cut it down later anyway.

If the Mexican primrose you have is Mexican evening primrose, Oenothera berlandieri 'Siskiyou' (pink flowers), I recommend spraying it with Roundup! If you keep it, in another year or so, it will be everywhere--it's TOTALLY invasive. Once it starts to spread, it's VERY difficult to get rid of it--it spreads underground and it's almost impossible to get all the roots out.

And I agree with Rhonda, with the clematis, you definitely need to know what kind you have before you start doing any cutting back or pruning.

With hybrid tea roses, when the flowers look bad or the petals drop, cut them back far enough to be cutting off at least the first 5-leaflet leaf. If they're taller than you want, you can cut them back further. Cut just above a leaf, and you can control the direction the new stem will grow by cutting above a leaf on that side of the cane. With other types of roses, I agree, check out the rose forum for more specific information. Some roses bloom on old wood only, and if you cut them back too far, you'll get few or no blooms the next year.

Have fun,

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 10:42PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

If you leave the seeds to develop on won't have blooms for the whole season.....cut the stem as soon as 12/2 is done blooming.
As far as clematis are concerned, in Indiania the paniticulata may very well die back and there will be no issue on how to cut it back....the answer will be to cut off all that is dead!
The viticella is a little more hardy,,,,but if you don't cut it back you will soon have a the rule of thumb with clematis is pretty much what I said....regardless of cultivar.
As for roses....unless you really are "into it" ( and with one un named rose from Wally world...I thin you are just beginning!)....don't worry about stuff....just cut off the dead blooms. Climbers bloom in the spring on shoots that come off of last year's it is important to protect them during the winter, keep them from whipping in the wind and protect from freezing if possible.
Do NOT cut off below the next 5 leafed composit....unless you have a shape reason....the 5 sectioned leaf is where the next bloom shoot comes from.
But, as you said, you are only a 2nd year gardner....don't worry about such details....just cut off dead blooms as soon as they die, water well,,,,and pile on the leaves in the fall.
You'll learn the fine points soon enough.
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 11:36PM
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Thanks, guys! Sometimes gardening seems a little daunting. When I started, I thought it was just sticking plants in a hole. :) Little did I know! Now I'm trying to learn to do things right. I'm taking the mg course in the fall, I'm sure that will help.

I have heard that the Mexican Primrose is really invasive...but I love totally wild and overgrown gardens...I don't mind if it goes everywhere!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 7:33AM
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I have a question. Can I cut my daisies down to the ground after they bloom? Not just cut off the blooms but take them all the way down?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2006 at 1:56PM
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Yes. Cut the stems down to the ground. The fresh, green leaves at the base will look nice.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2006 at 8:09PM
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