34 Perennials to Cut Back in the Fall

Begonia grandis

liuyushan / Getty Images

Some perennials can't handle cold weather well. They don't remain attractive after the first frost, and the cold can lead to recurrent problems with pests and diseases. But cutting back certain perennials can protect them from the cold and spark healthy growth come spring. Here are 34 perennials to cut back in the fall.

Tip

Cutting old and diseased foliage in the fall helps a perennial jump right into new growth come spring. But some plants need their foliage for protection over the winter and instead should be pruned in the spring. Know your plant's particular care requirements for best results.

  • 01 of 34

    Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)

    Bearded iris

     

    johnandersonphoto / Getty Images

    The tall foliage of bearded iris begins flopping early in the growing season. By fall, it can become cover for iris borers and fungal diseases. So cut back the plant after a killing frost, and dispose of the foliage, rather than composting it.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, orange, yellow, blue, purple, brown, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 02 of 34

    Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

    Bee balm

    bgwalker / Getty Images

    Even the most resistant varieties of Monarda can succumb to mildew. When that happens, you'll have to cut back the plant long before fall. But healthy new growth can be left until spring. Sometimes selective thinning of the stems is all that is needed for fall, and you can leave the remaining seed heads for the birds.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, moist
  • 03 of 34

    Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica)

    Leopard lily

     

    Paulo José Lima Gomes / Getty Images

    Prune the blackberry lily in the fall to keep its foliage from collapsing. Limp foliage can cause the crown to rot and invite borers. Cutting it back also can help stop unwanted self-seeding, preventing the plant from becoming invasive.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Orange with red spots
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, moist, well-draining
  • 04 of 34

    Blanket Flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora)

    Blanket flowers

    gubernat / Getty Images

    Blanket flower is a pretty hardy plant, and cutting back the spent stems seems to improve its vigor. The plant will look fuller and healthier with some fall pruning. And if you deadhead flowers throughout the growing season, it can promote more continuous blooming.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red, maroon
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 34 below.
  • 05 of 34

    Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum')

    Bronze fennel

     

    hmproudlove / Getty Images

    Bronze fennel can be found accenting many gardens. The foliage provides food for swallowtail caterpillars, which can leave the stems completely stripped by fall. If that is the case, it is no longer providing any use to the plant and can be cut back to the ground.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 06 of 34

    Catmint (Nepeta)

    Catmint

     

    ikuyan / Getty Images

    Nepetas respond well to pruning throughout the season to refresh and tidy up the foliage. Moreover, winter cold will damage the foliage, so get a head start on your spring garden cleanup by cutting back the plant in the fall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, well-draining
  • 07 of 34

    Columbine (Aquilegia)

    Columbine flower

    Paul McGowan / Pixabay

    Remove columbine foliage showing leaf miner damage, and clear out any debris around the base of the plant. Columbine sends out growth early in spring and appreciates not having old foliage from the previous season to contend with.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue, orange, pink, purple, red, white, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or loamy, moist, well-draining
  • 08 of 34

    Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

    Corydalis

     

    Alfira Poyarkova / Getty Images

    It is hard to kill corydalis. But if you would prefer to tame its enthusiastic spreading habit, cut it back after a killing frost. Furthermore, if a significantly hot summer has damaged foliage, cut back the plant to its basal leaves in the fall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 34 below.
  • 09 of 34

    Crocosmia (Crocosmia)

    Red Crocosmia

     

    Suna Viro / EyeEm / Getty Images 

    The flowers of crocosmia fall off naturally once it's finished blooming. The seed heads can offer interest, but the foliage eventually heads downhill in the colder months. There is nothing to be gained by leaving it up through winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red, orange, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, neutral pH, well-draining
  • 10 of 34

    Daylily (Hemerocallis)

    Daylily

    Kerstin Riemer / Getty Images

    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. If you can't get to cutting back all the dying foliage in fall, at least make a point to remove any diseased parts of the plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, orange, yellow, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining
  • 11 of 34

    Golden Marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria)

    Golden Marguerite

     seven75 / Getty Images

    By late summer, golden marguerite flowers have finished blooming and are nodding off. Pruning to the crown will encourage new basal growth, which helps to protect and sustain the plant through the winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 12 of 34

    Goldenstar (Chrysogonum virginianum)

    Goldenstar

     

    Jennifer Yakey-Ault / Getty Images

    Low-growing goldenstar often has problems with powdery mildew. If so, remove and destroy diseased foliage in the fall. Also, cut off any spent flower stems to maintain an attractive ground cover appearance.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, acidic, well-draining
    Continue to 13 of 34 below.
  • 13 of 34

    Ground Clematis (Clematis recta)

    Ground clematis

     

    suzyco / Getty Images

    This is a clump-forming clematis that blooms late in the summer and produces attractive seed heads. But when frost hits, it is as slimy as wet petunias. It blooms on new growth, so do not be afraid to clean it up in the fall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 14 of 34

    Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis)

    Begonia grandis

     

    liuyushan / Getty Images

    Frost will blacken and collapse the foliage of begonias. And if left at the base of the plant, this foliage can cause crown rot. Prevent this by cutting back the plant in the fall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 15 of 34

    Helianthus (H. x laetiflorus, H. salicifolium)

    Helianthus

     

    qingwa / Getty Images 

    These perennial members of the sunflower family usually finish blooming toward the end of summer and go downhill from there. Deadheading does not improve their appearance, and the tall stems are guaranteed to break and flop. So cut back the plant to the ground for aesthetics.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow and brown
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-draining
  • 16 of 34

    Hollyhock Mallow (Malva alcea)

    Hhollyhock mallow

    congerdesign / Pixabay

    Malva alcea blooms throughout the summer and into early fall and benefits from deadheading to encourage more flowering. Cut back the plant to basal foliage after it's done blooming to maintain a healthy appearance.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 17 of 34 below.
  • 17 of 34

    Japanese Anemone (Anemone hupehensis)

    Anemone hupehensis

     

    igaguri_1 / Getty Images 

    Beetles love Japanese anemones, and the plants are often defoliated by fall. If the beetles don't get to your plants, the foliage still will turn black and become unattractive with frost. So unless your Japanese anemones have had a very good year, it is advised to cut them back in fall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pinkish-white to rose
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, consistently moist, well-draining
  • 18 of 34

    Leopard Plant (Ligularia dentata)

    Green leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum) in bloom
    DigiPub / Getty Images

    Leopard plants are predominantly grown for their foliage. The leathery leaves grow several inches in length and width, and they emerge with a dark purple color before turning to deep green. However, the foliage turns to a dark mush after the first frost, so feel free to cut it back.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, moist
  • 19 of 34

    Ladybell (Adenophora liliifolia)

    Ladybell flowers

     

    Chris Burrows / Getty Images

    Ladybells flower in early summer and can be cut back after blooming diminishes. The plant is not prone to problems with pests or diseases, and the basal foliage should remain fresh until spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 20 of 34

    Masterwort (Astrantia major)

    Masterwort flowers

     

    DESIGNOSAURUS / Getty Images

    Masterwort is often deadheaded throughout the summer to prolong its blooming. If conditions are dry, the foliage will begin to yellow and can be sheared to the crown. But allow healthy new growth to remain through the winter. If no yellowing is present, leave the plant for spring cleaning.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium to wet moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 21 of 34 below.
  • 21 of 34

    Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium)

    Meadow rue flowers

     

    skhoward / Getty Images

    In terms of performance, it does not really matter when you cut back meadow rue. But once it is 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 is desirable, let it go until spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 22 of 34

    Mountain Bluet (Centaurea montana)

    mountain bluet

     Pix / Pixabay

    Mountain bluets tend to become black and unsightly with the first frost and can be cut back in the fall. However, if you already sheared them back in late summer and only basal growth is present, you can allow that to remain.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 23 of 34

    Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccineum)

    Painted daisy

     

    AYImages / Getty Images 

    Painted daisies can easily rot in wet soil. So prune the plants in the fall to prevent the foliage from flopping over and retaining moisture like mulch. Plus, if you deadhead faded blooms, you might get a second flowering in the fall prior to the first frost.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, orange, yellow, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 24 of 34

    Penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)

    Penstemon barbatus

     

    chapin31 / Getty Images 

    Penstemon does not like wet feet and should be planted a little higher in the ground than most plants. The foliage usually declines toward the end of summer and can be trimmed back. Allowing older growth to flop would hold too much moisture around the crown over the winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 25 of 34 below.
  • 25 of 34

    Peony (Paeonia)

    Peony

    Muecke / Pixabay

    Peonies need a period of cold to set buds for the following season. Along with the fact that their foliage is prone to mildew, that is reason enough to cut them back in the fall. Infected foliage can be removed in late summer. Healthy foliage will turn golden in fall and can be removed once it goes to mush after the first frost.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-draining
  • 26 of 34

    Phlox (Phlox paniculata)

    Phlox

     

    Tntk / Getty Images

    Phlox is prone to powdery mildew, and even the resistant varieties can become infected in bad weather. If so, prune and destroy all foliage and stems in the fall. Even if the plant is healthy, it will benefit from some thinning to increase air flow and prevent disease.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 27 of 34

    Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata)

    Plume poppy

     

    Janet Johnson / Getty Images

    Plume poppies are nearly impossible to kill. In fact, they can become aggressive spreaders in many gardens under optimal conditions. So cut back your plants before they go to seed unless you want plume poppies everywhere.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Off-white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, well-draining
  • 28 of 34

    Salvia (Salvia nemorosa)

    Planting of many Victoria Blue salvia plants in bloom.

    Anshu/Moment Open/Getty Images

    Perennial salvia benefits from pruning several times during the growing season to prevent it from flopping. When blooming slows in the fall, cut back the whole plant to the new basal growth to keep it healthy for spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue-violet, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 29 of 34 below.
  • 29 of 34

    Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)

    Siberian Bugloss

     

    Laszlo Podor / Getty Images

    Fall cleanup is preferable for Siberian bugloss, as its foliage turns black and unattractive with the first frost. The plant is an early riser in the spring, so clear away old foliage to prepare for new growth.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 30 of 34

    Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

    Sneezeweed

     

    Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

    Sneezeweed usually does not finish blooming until mid-fall, and by that time it is often covered with mildew. Once the flowers are spent, cut back the plant by half to promote healthy new foliage. Pruning also encourages branching, reducing the plant's need for support as it gets taller.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist
  • 31 of 34

    Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum)

    Solomon seal

     

    weisschr / Getty Images

    Solomon's seal pretty much disappears on its own after a frost or two. The leaves will certainly drop. But if the stems remain, they can be pruned back to the ground.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, moist, well-draining
  • 32 of 34

    Spiked Speedwell (Veronica spicata)

    Spiked speedwell

     

    Tetiana Garkusha / Getty Images

    As flowering ceases, spiked speedwell can be sheared to the ground. It will only turn black and ugly if left for spring cleanup. For healthy new growth, ensure that the plant has regular moisture but good drainage over the winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 33 of 34 below.
  • 33 of 34

    False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

    False indigo

     

    SkyF / Getty Images

    False indigo is one of those plants that split in the middle if they aren't sheared back after blooming. However, many gardeners like to leave the seed pods and choose to stake the plants. Still, the foliage turns black with frost, so cutting back false indigo in the fall is recommended.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 34 of 34

    Yarrow (Achillea)

    Yellow yarrow flower clusters.

    Gail Shotlander/Getty Images

    Yarrow does not like to sit in cold, wet soil. By fall, most of its blooms are spent, and its foliage is flopping and possibly diseased. Cut it back in early fall, and new basil growth will fill in before frost.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, clay, or loamy; dry to medium moisture, well-draining