On Display: Pruning for a Gorgeous Garden Arrangement
Every gardener wants a great display of color in the garden, and it’s not hard to achieve with good plant care. There are a few simple tricks that will help you keep ornamental plants flowering better, and for longer.
Deadheading spent flowers, pinching off growth, and dividing crowded bulbs and perennials are effective techniques used to encourage plants to perform at their best. They are carried out at different times of year, and all are simple to do.
Most plants divert their energy into producing seeds when their flowers start to fade, but you can encourage them to continue flowering longer by regularly removing spent heads. Dying flowers on soft-stemmed plants can be snapped off with your thumb and forefinger; use pruners for thicker stems or where accuracy is needed, such as on roses. This technique can be used on many shrubs, perennials, and annuals. A small number of plants are sterile and don’t set seeds, which means they will continue to flower even if you don’t remove the dead heads. You may still wish to remove dying flowers, however, to improve the plant’s overall appearance and to reduce the risk of disease or rotting in damp weather. In contrast some plants are prolific self-seeders, such as annual poppies, and can become a nuisance in the garden. In this situation, deadheading before seeds are produced will prevent unwanted seedlings from appearing all over.
Left to their own devices, some perennials, bedding plants, and flowering pot plants produce thin, spindly shoots, leading to a disappointing display of color. However, by pinching these shoots back early in the season you can encourage plants to produce bushier growth from lower down, which will give the plant a more balanced shape. It also creates more robust plants that are less likely to collapse, while also encouraging the production of more flowers. Some plants, like annual sweet peas, only need pinching off once, but others, such as fuchsias and petunias, need regular attention during summer. Generally, plants need pinching off when they are about a third of their ultimate height; aim to remove around 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) of growth.
Weak-stemmed or top-heavy perennials need supports in summer, which should be put in place in early spring. Use link stakes to surround large clumps, and wire-mesh rings on legs for multi-stemmed perennials. Help plants to hold their heads high for all to see in summer by putting supports in place before they get too big.
Thinning Overcrowded Bulbs
Over a number of years, most bulb species form clumps that gradually become so overcrowded that the plants stop flowering—described as becoming “blind.” To rejuvenate them, carefully lift the clumps with a fork as the leaves die down in fall, and divide them into separate bulbs. Remove any dead, diseased, or unhealthy bulbs, and replant the rest into well-prepared soil. Most bulbs will need thinning every three to four years, but let flowering performance guide your decision; lift and divide bulbs when the flowering season deteriorates. Encourage a good display from your plants by removing spent flowers and pinching off growth to promote new flowering stems.
Perennials That Benefit From Occasional Division
- Achillea (Yarrow)
- Coreopsis (Tickseed)
- Helenium (Helen’s flower)
- Monarda (Bergamot)
- Rudbeckia (Coneflower)
- Sedum spectabile (Ice plant)
- Stachys byzantina (Lambs’ ears)
Perennials That Dislike Disturbance
- Anemone x hybrida
- Aquilegia (Columbine)
- Crocosmia (Montbretia)
- Dierama (Angel’s fishing rod)
- Hemerocallis (Daylily)
- Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Bleeding heart)
- Paeonia (Peony)