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I live in zone 4. I have been instructed to cut back some of my herbaceous perennials plants before winter.

Should I do this to all herbaceous plants? If not, how do I know which ones to cut back and which one to leave "as is" or just partly pruned.

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    I agree wholeheartedly with the answer given below - you don't 'have' to cut things down (unless there's fungal disease in particular) - you can just clear away what's left of the dead stuff in spring. The old fashioned idea of cutting things right down was for tidiness and discouraging insects; we're more likely to encourage most insect life these days.
    – Bamboo
    Sep 1, 2016 at 11:11

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That is a very broad question - and there probably is no "one fits all" answer.

I personally tend to leave most them alone in fall for four reasons:

  • decorative purposes
    Many "spent" plant parts look spectacular when covered in frost and snow and give texture to borders that would otherwise look plain and empty. Some gardeners prefer the "clean" look, though.
  • frost protection
    A layer of leaves and stalks can act as protection during the winter, both during dry frost and by "holding onto" light snow that might be blown away otherwise.
  • ecological reasons
    The leaves and stalks are a place to overwinter for insects and other small creatures.
  • sheer laziness
    In fall, I am usually quite busy, so I tend to do only the bare minimum. Come spring, some material will have already mostly disintegrated without the need to place it on the compost heap and back on the beds. And the spring sun draws me out into the garden where I gradually make room for new growth.

This concept has its limits, though: do not leave plant material with diseases but remove it promptly. I also cut back what threatens to smother other plants or looks plain ugly. But that is an ongoing task through the growing season, not specifically a winter preparation.

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  • Ok thanks. I thought it was necessary because the plants needed to be cut to regrow properly or something like that.
    – Gilles
    Sep 1, 2016 at 12:01

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