Ask EcoBeneficial!

Helpful answers to readers' questions. Go ahead - just ask EcoBeneficial

ecobeneficial-trademark-shadow-new2
Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

Buy a copy of
The Pollinator Victory Garden!

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

When should I cut back my perennials?

You advise leaving perennials standing until Spring.  When should I cut them back?

Answer:

You are absolutely right – I do recommend leaving perennials standing through winter to provide a food source for birds, a place to hide for overwintering insects, stems for praying mantid egg cases, etc.   Knowing exactly when to cut perennials back can be a bit tricky with our weather becoming less predictable.

The first rule is that you want to avoid stepping on wet, spongy soil.   As the snow melts (hopefully), and the ground begins to thaw out, the soil can be very soggy and susceptible to compaction if you walk on it.  Compaction is the enemy of healthy soil, and so also the enemy of healthy plants.  Try to wait until he soil has dried out a bit before you go gangbusters cutting back your perennials.  Any stems which you can reach, without stepping on the soil, are fair game in spring.

Of course not all insects emerge at the same time, and remaining seed heads can be important sustenance for seed-eating overwintering birds, and migrating birds that return early in the spring.   So, I strongly recommend that you stagger your cutting back to allow for some of these more vulnerable creatures to benefit from the resources which are your dead plant stems.

This is especially true with meadows in the Northeast and other areas of the U.S. where meadows would succeed into forest if left alone.  Such meadows must be cut down periodically in order to eliminate woody plants that come up on their own.  If you cut 100% of a meadow down in early spring, you are eliminating 100% of resources that the old plant stems provide.  My advice – stagger your meadow mowing or burning so that you only cut or burn one-third of the meadow each year.  Small meadows may be harder to manage this way – so compromise and only cut or burn perhaps one-half of the meadow each year.  You will be sparing many creatures that make up our ecosystems.

Enjoy the spring, and don’t forget to sharpen your pruners (a bit of advice I need to take myself!).

Best,

Kim Eierman
Founder, EcoBeneficial!

 

 

 

 

Posted in

More from Ask EcoBeneficial!

Can You Suggest “Living Mulch” for a Garden in Illinois?

Question: I have a couple beds of Ninebarks and Viburnums and they’ve been there about two or three years. So I’m thinking it’s time to create a living mulch around them. Can you recommend a few plants for ground cover that have ecological benefits, and will fill in around these…

Read More

What Are Some Deer-Resistant Flowering Native Perennials for a Wet Meadow?

Question: What are some native, deer-resistant flowering perennials for wet meadows in the Northeast? Answer: As you likely know, no plant is deer bomb-proof.  In the absence of adequate forage, deer will browse just about anything. Young fawns may nibble on plants that make them sick, as they have not…

Read More

Should I buy Winterberry cultivars or straight species plants? Will deer browse Winterberry?

Question: I understand that berries of some winterberry cultivars may be too big for birds and may have less nutrition. Should I buy winterberry cultivars? I am in Maryland and have not seen the straight species anywhere. Will deer browse winterberry? Answer: I prefer to use straight species plants whenever…

Read More