Many of the gardens in Cambria are in glorious bloom this month. To keep them producing, you’ll need to employ some grooming techniques that will trick the plant into producing more flowers. There is an art to removing spent flowers, or deadheading, that will keep them producing, encourage healthy plant growth, and add maximum four-season interest to your garden.
“Deadhead” and “pinch” are similar terms. Some people use them interchangeably. Others make a technical distinction, insisting that you “pinch back” a plant like basil and petunias to make its vegetation bushier, whereas you can only “deadhead” a plant after it has flowered, since it’s the flower “head” you’re removing.
The energy in plants that is directed to the flower, and to producing seeds, needs to be redirected after it has completed its cycle. This redirected energy may create repeat blooms. Even a biennial hollyhock will behave like a perennial if you deadhead spent flowers, and a foxglove will send out smaller stalks of flowers, lengthing the blooming season.
You can often tell by looking at the plant whether or not deadheading will result in reblooming. If you see small buds forming further down on the plant, deadheading will surely result in future flowers. A Shasta daisy is a good example of reblooming.
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Keep daylilies blooming nearly all year in Cambria by snapping off the spent flower when it deteriorates. Leave the stalk until it turns brown, then gently pull it from the base of the plant. Remove the blooms of Siberian and bearded irises as they wilt. When all the blooms are spent, cut the stalk down to the foliage.
Gaillardia is one of the plants that will bloom better if deadheaded. Purple coneflower and coreopsis are others. Lilies will not give another round of bloom if deadheaded but the energy will be redirected into feeding the bulb rather than producing seed.
For some perennials, like dianthus, it would be nearly impossible to clip off every dried flower. That is the time to bring out scissors or shears. Round off the plant, removing tips of foliage as well as shriveled flowers. This technique can be applied to coreopsis, petunias, California poppies, phlox, and marigolds as well.
Ivy geraniums bloom nearly year-round in Cambria. Deadheading geranium flowers is essential. While you are at it, pinch back some of the branches of the ivy geraniums to leaf buds to keep them from growing too long.
Deadheading will keep your plants producing and healthy. Botanical reasons aside, removing shriveled flowers will also make your garden more beautiful. Now I’d better get out into the garden and “practice what I preach”!