The lone voice of horticultural reason

Deadheading For Second Bloom

One of our most cherished rights here in the land of the free is the right to think what we want; join me now, won’t you, as I remind us all once again that September is a summer month, meaning that this week marks the exact halfway-point of summer. So much to do, so much time.

Deadheading is an important task to keep up with now and in the weeks ahead.

As our perennials fade out of bloom, pinch or cut off the flower stem below the spent flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Always check a plant carefully to be sure there aren’t new flower buds hiding in the lateral branches below the exhausted bloom. Phlox is a common culprit in this regard. If you spot new buds, cut the stem just above these lateral branches. Bleeding heart, delphiniums, lupines, tall phlox, sage, veronica, Shasta daisies, coneflowers, yarrow and salvia are just some of the more commonly grown ornamentals that will usually reward your effort with a second wave of bloom.

This second wave will be more prolonged and take much less effort if you deadhead plants gradually, within just a day or two of their blooms fading. This is why I find it so simple to spend at least a short time in the garden each day. Starting in late June, there are only a handful of individual perennials with faded flowers on any given day; tend to them, then repeat the process at least every couple days, and the chore will take you only a few minutes each time. Let your garden go, however, and the task can appear daunting, probably because it will be. So get in the habit of deaheading early and often. Be sure to have a plastic pail with you in which to drop the spent flowers and stalks, then run them to the compost pile.

Some of the more dainty perennials, which may set dozens or even hundreds of individual blooms from one plant, lend themselves more to the shearing process rather than flower-by-flower deadheading. This realization came to me slowly. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to admit to anyone that I used to deadhead each individual flower in a vast bed of coreopsis “Moonbeam” using my wife’s $15 Revlon toe nail scissors. I’m better now. Not only can I admit to this, I have found it much quicker to shear.

A hand-held grass clipper, the tool used to snip grass blades in places your mower can’t reach, works best for this. Simply shear off the top third of the clump, be it coreopsis, wild geranium, or any of the cloud-like, small-flowered perennials. Finishing the job with a shot of granular or water-soluble fertilizer around the plant will help it
set new buds quickly, and your efforts will be rewarded with fresh blooms well into the fall.

Remember the principle involved here: deception. Plants aren’t as mysterious as you think. Why do plants flower? To make seed. Why do they want to make seed? Survival. What happens when we cut off a dying bloom, before a plant sets seed? It thinks a deer ate it. So what does it do? It starts the whole process over-root growth, bud set, flower. Does this apply to annuals? Of course. Pinch or cut off the top third of any annuals that aren’t blooming as profusely as earlier in the season, or are looking ragged. They too will rejuvenate, and give your garden much fuller color this fall, right up to the point when Jack Frost, the Ultimate Deer, puts an end to all our plants’ hopeless, silly dreams once and for all.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener