Cutting back plants and grassland in late autumn

When our park at Dennenlohe Castle finally closes its gates, attention turns to the high grassland. It gets one more thorough mowing so that the Camassia (blue and white prairie lilies) as well as the snowdrops and crocuses do not get lost the next spring or in the worst case fall victim to mowing. However, some areas of the grassland are left over the winter so that the pupating butterfly caterpillars can hibernate in the high dead grass. If all this grassland were mown away, the butterfly cocoons would have no or very few places to hibernate. Only 6 of 180 butterfly varieties hibernate in their butterfly form, the rest hibernate in cocoons or as an egg, spun into or onto parts of plants and high grasses, of which there are fewer and fewer. We want to have an integrated understanding of flora and fauna in our park, so this is very important to us.

"My opinion"
Why do I like to cut back dead rhododendron branches or fruit trees during frost? This time of year is ideal because fungal diseases are not a problem during cold weather, even though other people recommend against it (supposedly the ability of the tree to close up incisions on the branches may be affected, although has not been my experience). I always prune early budders, by which I mean maple, robinia or birch, when it is frosty. If you prune them too late, they lose too many nutrients in the sap that escapes.

"Less is more!"
One question I keep getting from gardening enthusiasts is how much they should cut back in late autumn. I tend to follow a "less is more" approach here, and concentrate more on dead branches and twigs that have lost all their leaves and no longer bear fruit. If this so-called deadwood is not removed, there is a risk of branches breaking during a storm or of fungal infestation.

To close I'd like to wish you continued enjoyment of your gardens, even during the colder months of the year. My garden holds a very special fascination for me at all times of the year, and I think many of you probably feel the same way.


Baron Robert von Süsskind
VIKING garden expert