Trim Time? Fingernails, Yes; Plants, Maybe Not.

I am frequently asked what is the first thing I trim back in spring and the most honest answer I am able to give is “my fingernails, you’re going to break them all off anyway, so you may as well get it over with.” And to clean under the nails, even when wearing gloves. I find gardening is dirty, so an old toothbrush kept at the utility sink is a handy tool for scrubbing under those fingertips.
I don’t recommend trimming garden plants back until active growth has begun in the spring. Last season’s growth left over winter provides a tremendous amount of protection to the base and root system of your plant beside providing winter contrast and at times seasonal seeds for small birds, as well. A perennial stem type can also give you a clue as to the amount of trimming you’ll actually do, or if a simple stem pull will be sufficient.
Some plants, such as bleeding heart {Dicentra spectabilis} and daylilies are easily cleaned up by a simple, sharp tug on the stem or remaining dried leaves. This should only be done at the beginning of new growth. If the old stem isn’t easily removed, you’ll need to snip it with sharp clippers.
Hard, stiff stems like those found on penstemon and Shasta daisy should only be clipper-trimmed. Pulling or tugging on these types of stems will most likely remove the entire plant or break off new growth.
Whether it’s a perennial or ornamental grass, a tidy look can be achieved by gathering all the stems in one hand, like a ponytail, and clipping just above the new growth. Large ornamental grasses can also be trimmed this way with an end result of a finely sculpted plant shaped like an upside-down crescent. If at all possible, try to trim your ornamental grasses before the new growth reaches six inches in height.
If the plant is any taller than that the likelihood is increased by cutting off tips of new growth.
Trimming, or pruning, clematis can be somewhat different, though, depending on when you’re variety flowers. A website that has reliable information for when and how to prune all three types of clematis is at I also noted this website includes recommendations to prune other types of perennials in the fall but this isn’t recommended in our area where our ground freezes solid. The clematis information was accurate but too long and detailed to include in this blog.
All the seeds started in our unheated cold frame are just sitting there, although most have sprouted, there does not appear to be much change in the past two weeks. If you are experiencing the same results, just be patient as when the weather warms even slightly, new and enhanced growth is sure to follow. Setting small seedlings out in an open garden area isn’t recommended yet unless your seedlings are passed the cotyledon {initial two-leaves} stage. Even then, in our area of Southeast, Utah, they may not grow at all yet. Small, unprotected seedlings are also susceptible to predation by rodents.
What an excellent time to be a gardener! Information and resources are more readily available than ever before, new and interesting seed types and plants are continuing to be introduced to home gardeners, and growing our own food is more popular than ever.
Until next time, enjoy your dirt!