by William Moss
The weather is finally cooling off, but that doesn’t mean the garden is done. Some plants, like asters, colchicums, and monkshoods, don’t get started until now. Even summer bloomers can keep performing deep into autumn with a little help. Clear out spent foliage; keep watering if it’s dry; and deadhead regularly.
Deadheading is removing faded flowers and flower stalks. Deadheading improves the plant’s appearance and often promotes a new flush of bloom, especially with annuals. By removing spent flowers you are redirecting energy away from seed production and back into the plant. Annuals take this as a signal to produce more flowers and fast. Many perennials, like coneflowers, bee balms, and lobelias, will also use that energy to put out more blooms. Other perennials, like lilies and daylilies, won’t bloom again, but they’ll funnel that energy into more flowers for next year.
Shrubs benefit from deadheading too. Butterfly bush and hydrangea will often rebloom when old flower heads are removed. Roses are the poster-child for deadheading. Except on species roses, which produce hips, all roses should be deadheaded regularly to promote fuller growth and more blossoms.
Leave seedheads only if they are appealing to you. If you like the tawny ornamental grass stalks or hydrangea mopheads, leave them. Personally, I enjoy the lily seedpods and the spiky heads of coneflowers so I don’t deadhead them. Plus the birds like to visit and snack on the native seeds. But almost everything else gets deadheaded.
There is no particularly special technique. Basically prune below the flower or flower cluster. If the flowers are all on a separate stalk (inflorescence), then prune out the whole stalk. Examples of plants where you would take the whole flower stalk include daylilies, irises, and columbines. For perennials and shrubs, where the flowers occur on the stems above the foliage, prune down to just above a leaf axil. New flower buds will develop in that axil. Annuals are super easy. Just shear them back to shape you want and give them a week or two to start the show again.
Deadheading is a casual task. As you walk through and admire your garden, bring your pruners and lop off the spent flowers at your leisure. You don’t have to get them all at once. There is still plenty of time in the growing season for black-eyed Susans, goblin flowers, zinnias, and even petunias to rebloom. Make deadheading part of your daily garden visits and you’ll have flowers til hard frost.
Get Out & Grow
William Moss, landscape architect on TLC's Town Haul, found his calling after taking a master gardener course in 1996. William's first gardening-related job was a supervisory position with the Chicago Department of the Environment. He immediately impacted the community by overseeing the installation of gardens citywide. In the spring of 1998, Moss moved his expertise to the Chicago Botanic Garden's Community Gardening department, where he continued to make a difference within Chicago communities by installing more gardens and teaching home gardening classes. Visit William at: http://www.wemoss.org/
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