Clip Clip Here, Clip Clip There …

This weekend I’ve been implementing a second round of cutting back my perennials. For some reason, whenever I do a lot of pruning or cutting back in my garden, I get a mental image of the Cowardly Lion getting a haircut during the scene from The Wizard of Oz when everybody is singing “Merry Old Land of Oz”. As a result, I find myself humming along. This movie made a big impression on me as a child, at least after I got over my fear of the flying monkeys.

Golden Alexander
Golden Alexander (with yellow flowers) blooming its heart out at the end of May, as seen from street.

But that is not the point of this post. The point is that what, when, and how I cut back has changed with both experience and the weather.

Golden Alexander
Golden Alexander foliage after cutting back, end of June

Normally I do my cutting back in late May. The purpose is to keep large summer and fall-blooming perennials more compact. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), goldenrods (Solidago species), and all but the shorter asters (Symphyotrichum) were all cut back by one half to two-thirds. This year the cool spring delayed cutting back so that I wasn’t finished until early June.

Baptiisia australis, Blue Wild Indigo
Blue Wild Indigo blooming on June 3.

Also, some plants didn’t need cutting back. Last year the Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) got so big and bushy by mid-May that it needed a restraining hand. This year the Golden Alexander got a late start but sent up its flowers at the normal time – but at a more modest height that did not require a garden sheers.

Baptisia australis, Wild Blue Indigo
Wild Blue Indigo after today’s haircut, just after it finished blooming.

On the other hand, in early June I did cut back the Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’ and S. x sylvestris  ‘Blue Hill’ in order to prevent them from flopping and opening up, as they did last year. (Didn’t work, by the way, but that is a subject for another post.) They were not all that tall to begin with, so I only sheared them back modestly.

This second round of cutting back at the end of June is not something I did last year. It is aimed primarily at spring-blooming perennials that need substantial trimming to keep their habits neat, prevent self-sowing, and create space for plants waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

Salvia 'May Night', Golden Alexander
Salvia ‘May Night’ with Golden Alexander, 2012

This weekend I cut back the Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis), which had just finished blooming, by about half. I had never cut this plant back before but it is recommended by Tracy DiSabato-Aust in her book, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.

I also cut back the Golden Alexander, now that it is forming seed heads. Some of the foliage was turning an attractive burgundy, something I had not noticed before.

The Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) is still putting out a few blooms, but in the next week or so I’ll cut it back substantially. Again, this is not something I’ve done in prior years, but it is recommended in DiSabato-Aust’s book. I am receptive to this suggestion because the Blue Star does get pretty unmanageable as the summer wears on.

Blue Star, June 3 of this year

Have you been spending a lot of time lately cutting back the plants in your garden?

37 Comments on “Clip Clip Here, Clip Clip There …

  1. Another interesting ‘cut-back’ activity: snipping or pinching asters, Russian sage, and mums. Take stems back by about a third. It delays blooming by about 10 days, but provides stout stems and more blooms.

    That’s how we pass the days away in the merry old land of…

  2. Yes, I trimmed the giant poppies right down, as the foliage swamps other plants trying to emerge. And the Veronica also got cut back. I’ve also been staking plants that get too tall in late summer. I have never dared cut back asters, golden rod etc before they flower to keep them compact. They say you can do it with Phlox too and call it the “Chelsea Chop” in the UK!

  3. I haven’t cut anything back yet but I’m glad to hear that you grow godenrod. They’re beautiful plants that have really gotten a bum rap from people who think they cause allergies .

  4. I’m impressed with all your clipping activities, and that you researched what needs a haircut and when.I haven’t been cutting back anything. I had never even thought that baptisia and amsonia could be or should be cut — I will want to see your results with those and how they look later on. Interesting!

  5. As soon as I read the title I started singing the song…my fav movie of all time and I never miss a chance to see it….I have not been good about cutting things back and will now that I will have more time so these suggestions and book suggestions will be helpful!

  6. Just before all the rain came, I finally got around to trimming back all of the finished bulb foliage, also gave my flaxes their first haircut of the season.

  7. Like you, I trim back many plants. It helps with overall appearance, but also to predict a specific bloom time – our garden walk season. My garden has not been opened in the last few years because it occurs during the Fling, but it is nice to have the plants making a show for those walking by.

  8. I’m not brave enough to cut back….I always botch it. I’ll be interested in seeing how yours come back.xxxx

  9. Not my favourite movie – 2nd best. My fav is Sound of Music. I too love movies from my childhood. I have to lock myself away to watch them as everyone else hates them! Back to snipping and clipping….nothing to snip back here yet. The oriental poppies will need doing at the end of the week and that’s about it so far!

  10. This is a huge weak spot of mine and you’ve reminded me I need to get on it! On a funny note, long ago my two sons got the parts of Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion in their elementary school production of the play, now you’ve got me singing the song 🙂

  11. I’ve done some pre-bloom cutting back to make plants shorter and fuller, but I haven’t done cutting back after bloom. In my garden conditions, Amsonia stays beautiful all season long; I grow it as much for the architectural statement that its foliage makes as for the flowers.
    p.s. I’m impressed that you got over the fear of the flying monkeys; I think I was permanently traumatized by them, along with all those multiplying-out-of-control mops and buckets in Fantasia.

  12. hmmm, maybe I should be cutting back my wild indigo–it is getting shrub-sized!

      • Yep–it now has seed pods. I chop back my Amsonia after it flowers, but it is hidden by other plants at that point and so you don’t notice it again until the lush new growth comes out. I never thought to do so with the Baptisia. It may be too prominent in the garden to look ugly for a few weeks. I may have to experiment with a few stalks. Thanks for the book tip!

  13. Hi Jason, your garden is looking amazing. I try not to prune as I like that wild, barely-in-control look the garden gets in the summer where everything is growing over the top of everything else and trying to escape the borders. I have been opening up the canopy of the ornamental cherry since it casts a great deal of deep shade and I want dappled light. It can become too dominant a feature in the garden and needs cutting back to let the other plants have a chance.

    • Thanks Sun il. I like a wild look too, but I have some gigantic perennials, and I guess I’m liking things a little bit neater these days.

  14. This past weekend I cut back some hardy mums to encourage more of a fall bloom, a rankly growing amsonia, and I pulled out fistfuls of and overgrown salvia.

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