Wildflowers are an excellent low-maintenance option for adding color and biodiversity to your garden. However, in my experience, these flowers still require a little care and attention, particularly at the end of the season. In this article, we’ll explain when you should cut back wildflowers.
Do I Need to Cut Back Wildflowers?
Although cutting back wildflowers isn’t strictly necessary, it has several benefits. Cutting back wildflowers at the right time can stimulate vigorous new growth. Cutting wildflowers back also promotes good air circulation, minimizing the risk of common wildflower pests and diseases.
Perennial wildflowers naturally die back during winter before reemerging in the spring. Annual wildflowers naturally die off entirely in the winter as they only live for one year. Biennial wildflowers live for two years and die back to their roots during their first winter. Biennials then die off entirely in their second winter after they’ve flowered.
But although cutting back your wildflowers is beneficial, don’t overdo it. Wildflowers are incredibly important for wildlife and provide food for birds and other animals during the fall. Only cut your wildflowers back once yearly to provide maximum wildlife benefits.
When Do I Cut Back Wildflowers?
Some gardeners cut back their wildflowers in the fall after flowering. However, I find the best time to cut back wildflowers is in early spring. This helps encourage vigorous new growth at the start of the season (when the final frosts have passed).
Cutting back wildflowers too early after they finish flowering can sabotage next year’s crop. Most wildflowers self-seed during the fall. These seeds stay dormant over winter before germinating in the spring. If you’re growing annual wildflowers, letting them self-seed allows you to enjoy a new crop each year.
Biennial and perennial wildflowers don’t flower in their first year. Instead, they focus on growing roots and foliage to sustain them during winter. If you cut them back too early, they may struggle to flower in their second year.
Cutting back wildflowers after they’ve finished flowering in the fall does keep things neat. However, this provides diminishing returns for wild animals that depend on wildflowers. Many wild birds feed on wildflower seed heads during the winter.
If you can tolerate a little mess, waiting until early spring to cut back your wildflowers is worth waiting. Many people also underestimate how beautiful and architectural wildflower seed heads can be in the winter garden.
How to Cut Back Wildflowers
The best way to cut back your wildflowers is to mow them once a year. Always use the highest setting on your lawnmower to preserve as much of the plant as possible.
Alternatively, you can cut your wildflowers back using sharp shears. Cut the plants down to about six inches above the ground if you’re using shears. Ensure your tools are clean and sharp to minimize the risk of diseases or pests.
Cut back wildflowers in the early spring to provide maximum benefits for wildlife. Cut back your wildflowers in the fall if you want a neater wildflower patch. Wait until your wildflowers have self-seeded before cutting them back.