Friday, July 24, 2009

Dead Heading or Cutting Back...

You gotta do it. You will be happy if you do. But man what a chore!
At the greenhouse after we plant the special order pots. We spend the next several weeks dead heading. All of us would rather, plant, water, fertilize, move. Anything other than deadhead. Oh man it is tedious. The task never ends. And it is back breaking! Honestly a killer. Leaned over those pots like that. Man, I have a back ache thinking about it.

O.K. What is it?
Deadheading or cutting back are pruning methods gardeners use on perennials, annuals & shrubs. I also cut back vines, especially if they flower.

Yea, but Why?
Deadheading stops a plant from going to seed or producing fruit, and in many cases encourages the plant to produce more flowers. Yup! You want lots of flowers all summer? Deadhead. A flowering plants sole purpose is to re-produce itself. All of a plants energy is used to produce flowers. After the flowers are done, the dead flower really isn't dead. It is now spending all of its time & more importantly energy making seeds. You want to divert that energy back to making flowers and looking pretty. At the Greenhouse we actually cut flowers back in the spring to produce bushier, healthier plants. Also deadheading makes plants look tidier or more the shape you like. I like having all the dead flowers, or almost dead flowers removed. Brown spent blossoms don't look that great to me. I also think that some plants get leggy, or gaingly looking. Some of my shade beds have over grown, and this year my ferns have been a little sun
damaged. So I try to visit each bed once a week. And pots even a little more often. Just tidy up the place a little.

Alright, I am catching on. Now How?
Honestly the most straightforward way I can explain deadheading is, "to remove only the faded flowers." When all the flowers on a single stem have been taken off, I cut the stem back to a floret, leaf or even to its base. Example of cutting to the base would be a daylily, or tulips. I cut those to the base. But I like to leave the grassy part.

I will discuss that later when I talk about tulips in the Fall.

Some people do "disbudding," which is removing smaller flower buds. Then the plant’s energy will go to the remaining flowers. There may not be as many flowers, but those left over will be larger. I personally don't do this. I have precious little time in the garden as it is.

I use several methods to prune, cut back & dead head.

Pinch- this is basically me pinching a plant off with my fingers. Simple, no tools required.
Snapping- I use this method with my potted geraniums, especially. When a blossom is spent, I follow the stem back to the base and snap it in the opposite direction. The stem will make the "snap" noise and then I remove the entire spent blossom.
Snipping- I have a little pair of nippers I use for snipping. I use this method when the plant is just a little thicker in the stem, and I might damage it by pinching. (because I end up pulling) Or if I might be damaged. Not a lot of people Pinch roses.
Shearing- I use this with grasses and some shrubs like Honeysuckle. (the shrub not vine) A lot of stems at once takes so much less time than one at a time. Shear them off.

Pasque Flower
I don't dead-head when I "want" to produce seed (or fruit) Some plants can remain as winter interest if you like the look of the spent flower. My example would be the pasque flower. I like the little fluffy leftovers. I also leave my Echinacea, I like those brown bally things. The birds munch them, and sit on them. I don't grow roses in my yard but often I see people leave the hips. In the late fall things left are often eaten by birds and small critters. That adds interest to the yard... I will admit that most of my dead heading and cutting back is in the spring. With a few exceptions.
Here is the spent Pasque Flower.

A few red flags. Be careful especially when cutting back shrubs. Most flowers grow on "new wood." Basically branches that have just grown in the past year. I would use the example of Lilacs. If you cut back stems this year. Next years flowers will be sparse, or non existent. But the year after that, watch out. You will be bombed again. Just don't plan on having your sister's wedding reception in your back yard in the spring the year after you hacked away at all of the Lilacs. But do hack the lilacs. They will stay thicker, less woody and keep growing beautiful flowers if you cut back on alternating branches. There are few shrubs I hate more than out of control Lilacs.

When "Cutting Back" you will remove part of a plant’s (usually shrubs or vines) top growth. The amount removed depends on what type of plant and what time of year. But I want to send another red flag here. Try never to take more that 1/3 of any shrub, anytime. I think it is to hard on them. Often the results are disastrous. If you need to really work over a shrub, consult your local nursery. You can also e-mail me with questions, because there are some exceptions to that rule. Butterfly Bush (Budlea) being one. You can mow that puppy to the ground in most cases, even if it is 6 feet tall.

My suggestions for each season-

In the spring

I cut back to remove the dead growth from last year. Usually, perennials are cut back to a few inches above the ground. Wow, that much? YES! For the most part Perennials will love you for letting them "start over again". I cut my Shrubs by about 1/3, but only if they have summer blooms. I don't cut back any Spring blooming shrubs, wait until they have finished the show...

In the summer

Most perennials & annuals should be cut back to encourage thicker plants and more blossoms. It is also good if you want less height in the plant. Chrysanthemums (mums and granny called them) in greenhouses have tons of flowers because they have been cut back. But look at the ones you plant, they are pretty but don't have nearly the same amount of flowers as the ones that are cut back. I myself MUST cut back the "blue" variety of perennial geraniums. If I don't, they get so tall and leggy. They take over the garden. And I like them, but not that much! Red Flag again, I wouldn't hit any huge perennial or shrub small or large in the heat of the summer. It is so hard for them to come back from. Deadhead yes, cut back? Not so much...

In the fall

I cut back perennials to prep them for winter. Unless I get lazy, because some I just wait for cutting back until next spring. I figure if a plant has "interesting to me" or strong stems that can make it through the weight of snow, leave them until next spring. If the plant has thin, small stems, I whack it.

Most all plants (perennials, annuals, shrubs) will benefit from some pruning. Don’t be afraid to venture out with your garden nippers or scissors or something. I have learned so much from just trying. There are some things I will never trim again, still others I straighten up weekly.

Happy Gardening...

1 comment:

  1. I have a confession to make. I have never cut back my pots. But that all changed this morning and I cleaned them up and look much better. I hope to see some more blooming soon!

    Thanks for the tips!