To Chop, Or Not To Chop
Late May and early June are the days to cut back your tall perennials in this part of the world. I’m talking about cutting back before flowering, not after. Which is to say, cutting back to achieve a more compact, bushier, and less floppy plant.
This is kind of an urgent issue for our garden because we grow so many tall plants and they tend to flop over. Flopping plants make me break out in a rash, as I am afflicted with plantacaderephobia – fear of flopping plants, from the Latin planta (plant) and cadere (falling).
Which leads to the question, what gets chopped? When it comes to certain plants, I feel insecure about chopping. I don’t like delaying the flowers (one result of cutting back), and what if they don’t flower at all?
As of now, here are some examples from my list of plants to chop in late spring. I’m curious if they are consistent with your own experience.
Asters. Pretty much all the Asters except for White Woodland Aster (Eurybia divaritica), which stays nice and short. In the Front Island Bed, I have a two-level approach with the New England Asters (Symphiotrichum novae-angliae). The ones in the center I leave alone, but the ones closer to the sides get cut back hard. Some people cut this plant back twice, but I don’t like the idea of delaying bloom for so long.
Yellow Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata). These are a challenge with their tall, thin stems. For the first time, this year I cut them all back hard in late May. We’ll see how they respond.
Brown-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba). Responds well to cutting back hard in May or June. This spring I also cut back one of our two clumps of Golden Glow (R. laciniata). So far the downsized one hasn’t gotten over the shock.
Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia). Definitely a good candidate for cutting back, at least in my experience.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Takes downsizing in stride. Otherwise becomes unwieldy and overgrown.
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia altissima). In my garden “Ironweed” is kind of a misnomer. Rubberweed might be more like it. Some of the stems have begun growing in a loose corkscrew shape. These I cut back and stake.
There are those who might point out that perhaps these plants are getting less sun than they need. Or they might mention that I should arrange the plants so that they hold each other up. My response to these people is this: mind your own business. Also: LA, LA, LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!
While I think the light could be inadequate for a couple of these (the Ironweed, for instance) I think a bigger factor may be rich soil. These plants are mostly wildflowers and they are not acclimated to garden conditions. In rich soil, they become overgrown. These days I don’t fertilize them or even add organic amendments beyond the dormant plant matter generated within each bed.
As far as my “no chop” list, I refrain from cutting back Monardas, Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium), Milkweeds (Asclepias), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum).
What plants are on your chop/don’t chop lists? Have you ever cut something back only to regret it later?