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Jess is in the Garden

My small thyme plants (plants last Spring) are on the edges of a west-facing, well-drained bed. They've looked very happy this year, but now the bases are getting woody and I'd like to prune them back.

I'm worried about doing that before the frosts hit, in case I kill them off.

Should I wait 'til Spring now?

Someone please remind me - does thyme flower on the old wood or the new?

And come to think of it, what about potentilla fruticosa? Didn't get many flowers this year so I'm wondering if I ought to not prune it at all this year...




Hello jess

Best to cut back in spring so leave alone now.

You can cut back pretty hard.....I have done that....but a light scissor-like cut is best in my opinion.  I grow a silver leaf form as well as the gold variety.  The former is taller whilst the latter more prostrate.  In both cases they receive a trim enough not to cut too far Into old wood. For me they are regarded as short term perennials.....I.e. to last about 4 or 5 years.

The potentilla?   You can cut it back hard or,lightly trim it.  Unpruned it will flower earlier.  I prune in autumn to control the size .....haircut and removal of the odd old stems.  A food feed in spring too helps


I fully agree with Verdun (as usual!)  What I sometimes do when they have grown long woody stems is to plant new ones which grow over the bare stems of the older ones.  By the time the new thymes have grown to cover those old stems (usually a couple of years), the old plants can be removed or cut back almost to the ground - if they survive (rare) it's a bonus.

Jess is in the Garden
Thank you both
I think I'm too impulsive and impatient when it comes to plants!
Roger  Brook

re potentilla. I hate haircuts, my own or on plants

I prefer to thin out a proportion of shoots from the base if they are getting overcrowded

re thyme. I agree it's a short lived perennial, most of my own pruning is just cutting out the dead old growth, best in Spring now. I find mine self seeds prolifically and this keeps my patch rejuvenated as very tired ones- I mean dead - get cut to the ground. 




I agree about the potentilla  Roger. I hate that 'cut back to fit' look. 

My haircut Potentillas look very, very natural.  As I said I also select pruning points.   Works for me.  Flowering then begins slightly later......June prob then through to autumn.  

Done thoughtfully Potentillas pruned like this remain compact, floriferous and "young".   

Thats the beauty of gardening.......often there is no right or wrong way;  if it works 


Jess is in the Garden

Thanks Verdun and everyone else too - whilst I'm not a fan of the chopped-within-an-inch-of-its-life look, I will prune back hard if someone more expert than me tells me it does the plant the world of good. That said, I have ;eft said potentilla alone one year and it still barely flowered...then chopped it a lot the year before and it barely flowered., so I'm at a loss to understand what suits it best.

Maybe at 3 years old it should just be left in peace to do it's own thing, with minimal interferences from me, and only if necessary to remove any dead bits!

Re thyme - I am waiting 'til spring. It can't come soon enough for me


Susan Giles

I was really interested to hear about your experience of your potentilla Jess. I know the GW team highly recommend the Chelsea chop, but so far I haven't been brave enough to go for it! My potentilla is in a pot and I prune it back in the autumn after the flowers have faded. It doesn't seem to do it any harm and it goes through the winter well. Other than that that's all I do, so maybe the best plan for next year would be to leave it alone and see what happens?

Jess is in the Garden

Thanks Susan - I shall wait and see! I suppose that unless it is south-facing, it will never have loads of flowers anyway. I shall keep you posted!

Susan Giles

Good luck Jess. I have been out mulching today as the weather in Essex has been so mild. Another thing I can't quite get my head around in GW is this: do you cut back all your herbaceous perennials and remove all the foliage to prevent crown rot or leave them until the spring which is supposed to be more beneficial to wildlife? I like the idea of helping wildlife out, but I also like to mulch and surely that will also give insects a place to overwinter, so do you think it's ok then to cut back the perennials. In terms of their performance the following year it doesn't seem to make much odds, but I'd be interested to know what you all think and why. Thanks.

Hi susan

Well, I like to tidy up.....saves time in the busy spring.....and mulch.  As long as the mulch isnt too can delay soil warming, in my opinion, and encourage rotting in wet cold winters

...oh Jess, thyme flowers on new wood 

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