London (change)
Today 11°C / 10°C
Tomorrow 13°C / 9°C

To chop or not to chop?


by James Alexander-Sinclair

Do you have an autumn clear-up in your garden? Do you cut down all your herbaceous stuff so that everything is tidy for the winter or do you leave everything until the new year?


Do you have an autumn clear-up in your garden? Do you cut down all your herbaceous stuff so that everything is tidy for the winter or do you leave everything until the new year? Most people nowadays leave it until later to give food for small birds and so that there is something to catch the frost.

However, some plants are looking pretty appalling and are best chopped down as soon as they're passed their best. This was brought home to me the other day, as there is a rodgersia by my front door that, for most of the year, is a picture of lushness and leafiness. Suddenly it has been transformed into something that looks as if it has been sat upon by an obese hippo. It has to go.

Clients often ask me when they should cut plants back and my answer is usually "when it annoys you". If a plant is still standing proud and looking good then it can stay; if it is looking a bit exhausted or has collapsed into a soggy lump then it's time to answer the siren call of the compost heap. This weekend Crocosmia 'Lucifer' and all the hostas are taking the long walk.

By all means leave as much as you can but keep looking and selecting. The autumn clean-up is not a matter of manically chopping down everything now but of slowly and steadily editing things out through the season. Which plants you cut back depends so much on personal taste and weather - lots of rain or heavy snow tends to make everything go 'flumpf' earlier (flumpf is, of course, a well-known horticultural term describing the process of plant collapse). It's tricky to give a comprehensive guide but, in my garden, I would never touch angelica, Ligusticum lucidum, achilleas, verbenas, fennel or all grasses until they had completely surrendered to the elements.



Discuss this blog post

Talkback: To chop or not to chop?
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 29/10/2008 at 11:25

Perenniels. Crocosmia - you mention "take the long walk". Do you mean leave through to the Spring, or "take the long walk" and chop?

Gardeners' World Web User 29/10/2008 at 15:36

Thanks. I like the suggestion that my normal approach might be described as "slowly and steadily editing things out through the season"! I generally regard my efforts as the result of prioritising, with too little time(daylight?) & too much to do at any given moment.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/10/2008 at 20:16

Carter: I'm afraid that I mean 'long walk' in the context of immediate chop. Apologies for lack of clarity. Lainey: Appropriate that i should have mentioned it really as we had a fair bit of snow in Northamptonshire last night (it is still here) and a lot of my plants have gone flumpf!

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2008 at 11:13

James, many thanks. There are two lines of thought about Crocosmia. Some people say leave until autumn. I will take your advice, wish me luck. Carter.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2008 at 11:15

James, sorry I used the word autumn in the third line of my message, should read Spring. Carter

See more comments...