Jessica Walliser
April 11, 2013

Although it can be tough, its necessary to cut back butterfly bushes so they can support new growth and blooms. Photo by Jessica Walliser (
Photo by Jessica Walliser
Although it can be tough, its necessary to cut back butterfly bushes so they can support new growth and blooms.

I finally made it out into the garden this week to cut back some of my perennials. Right now is the perfect time here in Pennsylvania—and in many other parts of the country—to cut down ornamental grasses and last year’s perennial stalks. I generally prune my grasses down to about 10 to 12 inches in height. I find the best garden tool to perform this task is a pair of long-bladed loppers rather than hand pruners. The increased cutting surface is a real time saver—it only takes three chops to cut down the entire clump of grass versus a dozen or more attempts using a hand pruner.

I also took some time to prune my butterfly bushes. I always take butterfly bushes down to around 18 inches in height. It’s never an easy job, as it can be difficult for the soul to cut them back so hard when they are nearly 8 feet tall. But if I don’t cut them back, the new growth will be floppy and won’t be able to support the weight of this summer’s flowers.

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In addition to cutting down all my phlox, coreopsis, goldenrod, asters, daylilies, and dozens of other perennials, I always give my lavender plants a good haircut in early April. Although it seems a little cruel to cut each plant back halfway, doing so prevents the plants from growing woody and sparse as they age. It was a trick taught to me years ago by an herb-loving friend. I use my long bladed lopper for this job, too, simply shearing all my lavender plants halfway back to the ground. In another month, they’ll begin to push out new, highly fragranced foliage and they are better able to maintain a nice, tight rounded habit with a proper annual pruning. I also think they give me more flowers because of their regular haircuts.

And, there’s one last job I always do this time of year: I set up grow-through plant-staking systems over all the perennials in my garden that are prone to flopping over. Rather than purchasing expensive metal “peony rings” for this task, I make my own staking systems using bamboo stakes and jute twine. Check out this video to watch me demonstrate this technique in my own garden. I always stake my plants very early in the season so that, as they grow, the stakes and twine are camouflaged and I won’t have to wrestle the plant into submission after it’s already in flower. 

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