Dead­head­ing: it’s good for your gar­den flow­ers

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - NANCY BRACHEY

Dead­head­ing is a bit of hor­ti­cul­tural jar­gon that of­ten raises a puz­zled look. While the term sounds a bit like me­dieval tor­ture, it is, in fact, a very nice thing to do for all kinds of gar­den flow­ers.

In­stead of sig­nalling the end of life, as it might were we in the 15th cen­tury, it ac­tu­ally ac­com­plishes the op­po­site. That is be­cause re­moval of fad­ing, spent or dead blooms can ac­tu­ally spur ro­bust new growth for most an­nu­als. While such pop­u­lar bed­ding plants as im­pa­tiens, peri­win­kles, and be­go­nias tend to drop spent flow­ers, many oth­ers need our help to do this im­por­tant work.

And while th­ese hot days don’t en­tice us to spend all af­ter­noon out­doors, dead­head­ing is a task that can be ac­com­plished sim­ply and, depend­ing on the size of the flower bed, rather quickly. This is of­ten a down-ony­our-knees task that gets you up-close to the flow­ers. Since my knees got older, I have opted for a lightweight, plas­tic kitchen stool that I carry around to sit on.

The act of dead­head­ing is quite sim­ple. Lit­tle flow­ers such as marigolds and petu­nias can be re­moved by pinch­ing the soft stem be­tween your thumb and fin­ger. Larger blooms with stronger stems will re­quire clip­ping with small shears or scis­sors. Some mod­ern petu­nias pos­sess the vigour and stamina to keep go­ing with­out dead­head­ing, but even they ben­e­fit from the re­sult, which is a bet­ter-look­ing plant.

Dead­head­ing en­cour­ages fresh growth be­cause it pre­vents the for­ma­tion of seed by the plant. When an an­nual goes to seed, it tends to think life is done with, and the plant de­clines. But re­moval of the spent flow­ers be­fore seed for­ma­tion keeps the plant grow­ing and pro­duc­ing flow­ers. It is sim­ply the plant show­ing its will to live by bear­ing seeds to pro­duce the next gen­er­a­tion.

Most roses also ben­e­fit greatly from dead­head­ing be­cause it en­cour­ages fresh growth to bear new flow­ers.

Peren­ni­als, which tend to pro­duce a sin­gle show of long-last­ing flow­ers, also ben­e­fit from dead­head­ing be­cause re­moval of the old flow­ers makes the bed look bet­ter. This is es­pe­cially true for peren­ni­als that pro­duce lush fo­liage, such as the Becky Shasta daisy, which is good-look­ing on its own. How­ever, some peren­ni­als may be en­cour­aged to put out fresh blooms af­ter dead­head­ing.

Day lilies ben­e­fit from re­moval of spent blooms. In­di­vid­ual spent blooms are easy to pinch off, and once the stalk has bloomed out en­tirely, it can be re­moved, with the fo­liage left undis­turbed through the sum­mer and fall.

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