Is strimming the herbaceous borders a deadly sin?

The cleared west border, with our Mahonia getting in on the action!

Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve been strimming the borders.

With a petrol string trimmer. I know, quite embarrassing…

Recognising that I’ve probably lost you to the RHS site by now and unlikely to recover any gardening credentials I kid myself into thinking I might have had, I’ve started so I might as well finish…

Our elderly but serviceable strimmer!

Cutting down a herbaceous border by hand with a small pair of secateurs can take a bit of time. Our borders travel right round the perimeter of the Walled Garden and they range from 2-4 metres deep. So, pruning by hand can take quite a few hours. Days. Well, quite a few weekends. And at this time of the year, we can get either very heavy frosts, very heavy rain, or even snow, which makes the process even longer. And it’s using up time that I would rather spend on encouraging, well, living plants – spreading compost, pruning shrubs or maybe even planting the odd rose bush.

And I have to say that I find cutting back dead herbaceous just a bit, well, boring. I mean, it’s not that it needs any great care. The stems are after all dead and play no part in the new year’s growth. We’re not talking pruning fruit bushes or indeed roses, where cutting out dead growth, weak or rubbing stems does help to determine the following year’s productivity (although, as an aside, there was an RHS trial a few years ago involving pruning roses with hedge-trimmers that apparently had no lasting effects and may have improved floriferousness! Personally, nothing gives me greater pleasure than a beautifully-pruned rose bush. Quite sad, really, but there may be one or two of you who agree).

The Herb Garden

And yes, one does need to be careful about bulbs peeking through or Primula denticulatas that are starting to build up a heart at this time of the year before they launch their flowering rockets, or snagging a prized shrub by mistake, so cutting height (and clean goggles!) is all important.

But it does allow you to cover the ground, leaving behind quite a nice mulch of disintegrated plant material, although it can look a bit like Armageddon initially as the stuff does tend to come out all over the paths, and the operator, too!

I’ve also found out that I’m not the only Scottish gardener to do this (not that I’m maintaining that border strimming is a Scottish custom, like haggis-eating, caber-tossing or cloning sheep). On reading my copy of the latest RHS magazine, The Garden, I find that the gardeners of Dunrobin Castle, ancient seat to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland, no less, also carry out this modern practice. So there you have it: horticultural credibility returns, maybe!

6 thoughts on “Is strimming the herbaceous borders a deadly sin?

  1. LOL! I totally agree. Strimmming or weed eating as we call this in the US is the way to go in herbaceous borders. I just completed the boring task of hellebore maintenance on hands and knees. I do not strim, as the leaves develop fungus that I want to remove from the garden. Strimming would work well in the butterfly garden, where I welcome self-sowing seeds from Queen Ann’s lace, verbena, hyssop, and others as the process slings cuttings around with abandon. But I do tend to rake afterwards, as in this climate, fungal issues run rampant.

    January is the ideal time to cut off last year’s hellebore leaves before the flower buds appear by early February here in central VA. The ground is very damp/soft, and cold temps make this chore a task. Can you see the small violin playing?

    Although a sharp chef’s knife makes quick work of the sturdy stems, the hands and knees action is dull, boring, and tedious. The only reward is the mass of pretty, long lasting blooms that begin soon and the dollars the bouquets provide come April at the Farmer’s Market. I only recently learned that hellebore flowers have a long vase life, but I warn customers to keep them away from gnawing indoor pets.
    Keep on strimming!
    Cheers, Diane


    • Good point about fungus risk, Diane. Hellebore trimming sounds fiddly but will really show off the blooms to good advantage. I’d love to get some more hellebores although our yellow Lenten Roses do self-seed which is nice. I bet they sell well at the Farmers Market- a nice alternative to daffodils!
      Love the weed-eater nickname- very descriptive!


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