Ask Burton: Q: When do I prune back my perennial beds?

A: We can help! This is how we tend to break them down.
• Prune before hard freezing weather – any tender perennial! Lantana comes to mind, and any of the fleshy-stemmed perennials such as cannas, bananas, hardy hibiscus, and elephant ears. A nice thick layer of mulch over the top of the stubble after pruning will help keep things happy, and stop ice from freezing straight down those wet stems into the root system. It’s absolutely time to get this done.
• Prune to keep tidy – Most perennials can be pruned right now to stubble, in preparation for colder weather and to keep the beds neat. Many of our favorite perennials are looking rough already, feel free to prune them short just for tidiness.
• Prune before new growth in the spring! – Some of our perennials look great right now, still! They can also be pruned now if you have time to do so and might not later, but if you’re reluctant to do so because the plants look great right now, that’s fine. (For many people, blackfoot daisies, Mexican sage, autumn sage, and gaura are still glorious, for example.) Just please do prune them before new spring growth comes out in March, both to remove dead foliage and to keep a dense, full plant next spring.
And don’t be too alarmed if you don’t prune something quite at the ideal time. Other than the tender perennials, which really should be pruned before the hard cold moves in, you really can’t mess this up all that much. Most perennials are pretty forgiving.

Burton specializes in diagnosing and solving plant problems. If you have a question for Burton, please email him at and include photos showing the problem.