Gardening GlimpsesBy MRS. HERMAN MCKENZIE,
“Dead-heading” doesn’t sound much like a kindly term for your garden plants, but more like something from these violent slash-and-burn commercials trying to attract teenager viewers.
But it is actually a most useful trick, which you need to master, whether with pruning shears, snippers, or even your fingernails, if the plant stems are tender enough and the fingernails sharp enough.
Dead-heading is fairly appropriate to describe the process by which you cut back the top growth of a plant, usually an annual or a tender perennial, to try to get more bloom later in the growing season.
If you are dealing with woody perennials, such as rose bushes, or small trees, such as crape myrtles, the term “pruning” matches the dead-heading process. But you really need to know more what you are doing with pruning as a rather more drastic cutting back.
If you are fairly new to gardening, or growing a whole lot of summer annuals or container plants in a new location, learn which plants are most likely to benefit from dead-heading.
The list includes bee balm, butterfly weed, columbine, cosmos, Garden phlox, hollyhock, lavender, marigold, monkshood, rose campion, salvia, Shasta Daisy, speedwell, and yarrow. Of course it depends on the size of the plant, and how much you like it. I am so charmed with the one shy rose campion plant that comes back each year, saved for me from Weytha Nunley’s Tishomingo County garden, that I dare anybody to even think of snipping back anything.
Salvias respond well to this dead-heading; I remember how Joan Alliston, when she was working at Lakeland Yard and Garden, lecturing us repeatedly and extemporaneously on the value of dead-heading salvias selectively, starting in July (oops, another “window” of time is gone by), cutting back at different levels so you will have an extended bloom period.
My favorite salvia, the gaurantica, is so gorgeous I dare anyone to touch it. But another, much more common one, whose name I cannot remember, but which was so very ordinary that Allen Lacy’s wife wouldn’t even let him grow it in their major flower beds, is standing six feet high right now in the sunny perennial border beneath our south-facing kitchen window, and will benefit, by the end of the week, with a good snipping back to about 12 to 15 inches.
In containers, plants with faded flowers benefit from intelligent deadheading because they do not set seed pods and spread colonies of new plants. But those plants, usually perennials, that produce several flowers on a stalk, such as daylilies, should be allowed to complete the bloom cycle of the whole stalk.
Some plants, like the larger showy coleus, offer two options for dead-heading. You can snip out the tiny blue florets, quite lovely if you are looking closely but not very showy; or you can actually run down the stem further, and cut back the top growth, and use it to root new plants from old.
This is going to be Vicki’s next “weird gardening” techniques to learn, when some of the more urgent jobs are finished, as three big coleus in the mailbox bed are outsized.
If we both have the patience, the same afternoon, and her fingernails are the right length, but due for a manicure soon, we’ll fill up some black plastic pots with top soil, go down to the mailbox, and snip away, putting some of the pruned tops in an open space, where they will root just fine, if it rains every few days, and the others in the pots, to put out elsewhere, as the spirit moves us.
And if you’re a beginning gardener and find all this careful attention a chore, just bulk up your gardening shopping list with petunias, nemesias, astilbes, and baptista. Plus of course the mainstay of any shady hot summer garden, periwinkle.