Gardening courses 2024

The autumn tidy - dealing with spent perennials.

People talk of putting the garden to bed in autumn, but the reality is that you have until late winter to clear your borders of dying foliage. In fact, if you are happy to leave your garden in situ though the winter months, it will greatly benefit the local wildlife population by providing habitats for overwintering insects, and seed heads for garden birds to feast on.

The key word here is happy, as it's your garden, and you have to look at it! Whilst some perennials, retain their structure as they die back and can look quite magical with a dusting of cobwebs and frost, other perennials just look frightful as they brown and collapse all over your borders

frosty garden.jpg   snips 4.jpg

I leave my garden for as long as I can before I start to clear away the old foliage. I love the wildlife it brings into the garden, but there are other benefits too. The old stems provide a degree of protection from frost damage to the crown of the plant and also offer some protection to the soil from erosion and nutrient leaching during periods of heavy rain. 

All very good reasons to put up with a messy garden!

If you are intending to venture into your garden with your secateurs this autumn, the following may be useful: 

What to leave/what to remove

  • Always remove any plant material that is showing signs of decay or fungal growth to stop the spread of disease. For example, the leaf below is covered in a fungal spore known as "rust." All infected plant material should be removed and binned or burnt 

hollyhock rust.jpg

  • Leave stems on plants that are considered to be a little on the tender side such as penstemons, until April/May as the old stems provide protection from frost.

How to remove old stems

Firstly, peer into the crown of the plant to see if there is any new growth emerging.

  • Where there is no new growth, snip the dead stems close to the base of the crown. 
  • Where new growth is emerging - make your snips just above the new growth.


  • Plants that grow from bulbs or tubers such as crocosmia, paeonies, lilies, and agapanthus are cut back to soil level


 Snipping's can be added to your compost heap, as long as they are free from disease.