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Pruning in the Fall
■ Bearded Iris The tall foliage of bearded iris begins flopping early in the season. By fall, it's cover for iris borers and fungal diseases. Cut back after a killing frost and it would be wise to dispose of the foliage, rather than composting. Divide every 3-4 years.
■ Beebalm (Monarda didyma) Even the most resistant varieties of Monarda can succumb to mildew. When that happens, you'll be cutting them back long before fall. Fresh, new growth can be left on until spring. Sometimes selective thinning of the stems is all that is needed and you can leave the remaining seed heads for the birds. These can also be divided every 3-4 years.
■ Blanket Flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) Gaillardia is a pretty hardy plant, but cutting back the spent stems seems to improve its hardiness even more, by improving its vigor.
■ Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum') Bronze Fennel has increased in popularity lately and can be found accenting many gardens. The foliage provides food for swallowtail caterpillars, which can leave the stems completely stripped by fall. If that's the case, they are no longer providing any useful service and can be cut back to the ground.
■ Catmint (Nepeta) Nepeta respond well to severe pruning throughout the season. The foliage will be damaged by winter cold and will need to be cut back anyway, so get a head start by pruning in the fall. Cut these back to ground level and divide them yearly if it is out of control; otherwise divide every 3 years.
■ Columbine (Aquilegia) Remove any foliage showing leaf miner damage and remove any debris around the base of the plants. Aquilegia send out growth early in spring and appreciate not having the old foliage to contend with. Replace these perennials every 3-4 years.
■ Crocosmia (Crocosmia) The flowers of Crocosmia fall off naturally once blooming has finished and the seed heads can offer interest, but the foliage eventually heads downhill and there is nothing to be gained by leaving it up through winter. Divide the clumps only when the vigor and flower quality begin to decline.
■ Daylily (Hemerocallis) Daylilies respond well to shearing and unless you are in an area where they remain somewhat evergreen, fall pruning will save you a messy cleanup in the spring. Divide every 3-6 years when they become crowded.
■ Ground Clematis (Clematis recta) This is a clump forming clematis that blooms late summer into fall. It produces attractive seed heads, but when hit by a frost, it's as slimy as wet petunias. Blooms on new growth, so don't be afraid to clean it up in the fall.
■ Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis) Frost will blacken and collapse the foliage of Begonia. If left at the base of the plant, it can cause crown rot. Prevent this by cutting back in the fall.
■ Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida) Japanese Anemones are favorites of certain beetles and are often defoliated by fall. If not, the foliage of Japanese Anemones turns black and very unattractive with frost. Unless your Japanese Anemones have had a very good year, it's advised to cut them back in fall. They can also be increased by divisions during the fall.
■ Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium) Performance wise, it doesn't really matter when you cut back Meadow Rue. But since it's done flowering for the season, pruning in the fall is one less thing to do in the spring. However, some varieties will self-seed. If that's desirable, let it go until spring. Divide every 4-5 years.
■ Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccineum) Painted Daisies can easily rot in wet soil. Prune in the fall to prevent the foliage from flopping over onto itself and acting as a mulch.
■ Peony (Paeonia) Peonies need a period of cold to set buds for the following season. That coupled with the fact that their foliage is extremely prone to mildew is reason enough to remove the foliage in the fall. Infected foliage can be removed and disposed of in late summer. Healthy foliage will turn golden in fall and can be removed once it has turned to mush, after the first frost. Division can be done in the fall but is rarely needed and not advised.
■ Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus) By this time Helianthus foliage isn't a standout to begin with and by the time the flowers have faded, it's also time to cut the plants down.
■ Phlox (Phlox paniculata) Phlox is prone toward powdery mildew. Even the resistant varieties can become infected in bad weather. If so, prune and destroy all foliage and stems in the fall. Divide every few years.
■ Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata) Cut these back before they go to seed or you will have Plume Poppies EVERYWHERE.
■ Salvia (Salvia nemorosa) Perennial Salvia benefits from several prunings during the growing season. In fall when blooming slows, cut the whole plant back to the new basal growth.
■ Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) Helenium usually doesn't finish blooming until mid-fall, but by that time it is often covered with mildew. The foliage can be cut back and removed before winter.
■ Veronica/Spike Speedwell (Veronica spicata) As flowering ceases, the plants can be sheared to the ground. They will only turn black and ugly if left until spring. Divide every 4 years.
■ Wild or False Indigo (Baptisia australis) Baptisia is one of those plants that splits in the middle if not sheared back after pruning; however, many gardeners like the seed pods and simply stake the plants. Come frost, the foliage turns black and even staking isn't going to help its appearance. Cut back for aesthetics.
■ Yarrow (Achillea) Achillea don't like to sit in cold, wet soil. By fall, most of their blooms are spent and the foliage is flopping and possibly diseased. Cut back in early fall and new basil growth with fill in before frost. Divide when the clumps get crowded.