5 Things Every First-Time Gardener Needs to Know Before Winter


What you need to know before the winter season

Fall is here, and the leaves are changing color and falling from their branches. Suddenly—you realize you have plants to take care of, and you have no idea how to get them winter-ready. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Being a first-time gardener can leave you wondering how to care for your perennials.

While you can do this yourself, it is always best to ask the experts. Landscaping professionals like Alfresco Landscapes have been performing year-round maintenance for residents in West Michigan for decades, and love helping new customers. 

If you want to be a well-informed gardener, here are 5 things you should know about cutting back on perennials. 

  • Pruning, Cutting Back, and Dead-Heading

The first step of taking proper care of your garden is knowing the difference between the types of cuts for perennials. Understanding the lingo and what exactly this means for your perennials can make a huge difference in how your garden will look in the Spring. 

Pruning is one popular way to care for your perennials. Pruning cuts are usually made above a node on a branch or stem and it encourages growth for the future. All the pruning you make before winter will determine the growth direction of all your perennials. 

Cutting Back your perennials means that you are cutting the whole plant to just a few inches above the ground. Shrubs, for example, should be cut back 12”-18” above the ground, but your perennials should only be a few inches. This is the best practice for your perennials during the winter season. 

Dead-Heading is the process of removing spent flowers from perennials and annuals. This prevents the production of seeds after flowering. Producing flowers requires a lot of energy. Energy that can take away from other desirable aspects of your plant. Deadheading your flowers will make sure that that energy is directed to whatever part of the plant you want to highlight. 

  • Perennials You MUST Cut Back For Winter

Now that we know the best practice for this winter is to cut back your perennials, we should determine which perennials need to be cut back. Cutting back certain perennials will allow the new foliage to come back fresh and sharp. Perennials such as the following should be cut off during the winter season: 

  • Bearded Iris
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Phlox
  • Lilies
  • Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  • Peony (Paeonia)
  • Salvia
  • Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum)
  • Yarrow (Achillea)
  • Hostas
  • Astilbe

After cutting back these perennials, be sure to completely dispose of them.

  • Perennials That Are Safe For Your Winter Garden 

No, you don’t have to cut back ALL your perennials. There are a few that might be beneficial to keep in your garden. Many plants can be quite beautiful in their dormant winter form. They might also be great for helping local wildlife. See the list below for perennials that can stay this winter and why: 

    • Annual wildflowers drop seeds and return next season
    • Echinacea (Coneflower) and Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan) should be left until spring to attract and feed birds throughout the winter
    • Sedum and Ornamental Grasses should be left throughout winter to add height and interest
    • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias), Ferns, and Heuchera (Coral Bells) should be left until spring-the foliage helps to protect their crowns.

Leaving certain perennials throughout winter can benefit your garden’s aesthetic and wildlife. So don’t be afraid to leave some of them around! 

If you are not sure which perennials should be kept or discarded, make sure to contact a professional landscaping company near you to help. 

  • Why You Should Cut Back On Some Perennials

Other than the look of your garden, the overall health of the flower bed is important. Some perennials can carry certain diseases, fungi, and other infestations in their dead foliage. These things can be harmful to your garden, and damage any existing work you have put in. Cutting back your perennials is vital to the health of your garden, especially if you are considering composting the clippings.

Composting is a great practice for any gardener. But if your perennials were diseased before being cut back and you compost them, chances are that these diseases will come back after winter. If you want to keep your garden beautiful and healthy after winter, be sure to dispose of your cut perennials completely. Also, make sure you throw them out far away from your garden!

  • The Best Time To Start Your Fall Cleanout 

You’ve heard the best ways to go about your garden. So when should you start the fall cleanout process? Most gardeners recommend cutting back when your perennials start looking worn and right before fresh growth begins.

For other plants that are more sensitive to cold temperatures, the best time might be after a few hard frosts. Watch for temperatures that reach no more than four below zero. These temperatures are considered a “hard frost”. Waiting for this hard frost will allow your plants to go dormant before you start cutting back on them. 


Having a basic understanding of how to clean out your garden for the winter is essential to having a beautiful and full garden in the spring. From avoiding infestations to maintaining the aesthetic of your garden, learning these basic facts about cutting back your perennials for your first winter will only help you gain more and more knowledge about your own garden. 

Even though you can do this by yourself, there are always risks and uncertainties. If you want to avoid this trial and error process that could potentially take years to master, be sure to contact professionals like Alfresco Landscapes for expert care that’s landcrafted by experienced professionals. Then you can sit back and relax as you enjoy your garden.


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