Garden Maintenance - Pinching, Deadheading and Cutting Back

  • 01 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Deadheading - Buds

    Deadheading Spent Flower Buds
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Planting a garden is half the battle. From the day your garden is planted, it will require maintenance to keep your flowers blooming and looking good all summer long. In the following pages, we'll take a look at some of the routine garden maintenance chores you should become familiar with.

    Most flowers benefit from having their spent flowers removed. This is called deadheading. Flowers that repeat bloom will often do so only if the old, dying flowers are removed. If they remain on the plant,...MORE they will go to seed and stop producing flowers. Even many flowers that bloom only once per season benefit from deadheading, because the plant puts its energy into strengthening itself instead of producing seed. Some exceptions to this rule are plants like Astilbe or ornamental grasses, that bloom only once, but continue to look attractive with their drying seedheads.

    Above is an example of a Centaurea montana that is having just its spent buds removed. Centaurea montana will set more buds along the stem, so the entire flowering stem is not removed until all the buds have bloomed and faded. A good pair of garden pruners will make a nice, clean cut.

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  • 02 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Deadheading - Flowering Stem

    Pruning Flower Stems
    © Marie Iannotti

    Sometimes it is best to just remove the spent flower bud when deadheading, as in the previous page with Centurea montana. However, when each flower is on its own stem, it is better to deadhead the entire flowering stem, rather than leaving a gangly, headless stem attached to the plant. Here a Scabiosa stem is being cut down to the base of the plant.

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  • 03 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Pinching

    Pinching Flower Buds
    © Marie Iannotti

    Some plants have very crisp, thin stems and can be deadheaded using you fingers. This type of deadheading is referred to as pinching. Coleus plants are grown for their foliage, not their flowers. Pinching the flowers off of coleus plants encourages the plants to become bushier and fuller. Other flowers that can be pinched include daylilies and salvias.

    Many fall blooming perennial flowers are pinched early in the season, to prevent the plants from becoming tall and floppy and to induce more...MORE flower buds. Pinching plants like mums and asters will also move their bloom time back a few weeks, giving you flowers in late September, when the rest of your garden is dying down,rather than in late summer.

    To pinch fall bloomers, start by removing up to 1/3 of the plant when it reaches about 6 inches tall. Repeat that process every 2-3 weeks, until the 4th of July. Then let the plant grow and set its flower buds.

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  • 04 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Pinching versus Shearing

    Chores for Maintaining a Flower Garden
    © Marie Iannotti

    Although threadleaf Coreopsis plants are suitable for deadheading by pinching, the quantity of buds and their close proximity to one another on the stem can make pinching coreopsis a nightmare. With plants like this, you are better off waiting until the majority of buds have bloomed and then shearing the entire plant back by 1/2 to 2/3s. It won't take long at all for the plant to regroup and set more buds.

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  • 05 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Shearing

    Shearing Back Plants
    © Marie Iannotti

    It's not just plants with a vast amount of flowers to be deadheaded that make good candidates for shearing. Plants like catmint and perennial Geraniums tend to bloom all at once and then decline. Here catmint is being sheared back to a few inches. This will encourage the plant to set out new growth and new buds.

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  • 06 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Foliage Dieback

    Fading Foliage
    © Marie Iannotti

    Some early bloomers simply get tired looking by the middle of summer. You will start to notice the older leaves, toward the outside of the plant, drooping and looking worn. This hardy Geranium was a full clump in spring, but now it has become an unattractive sprawler.

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  • 07 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Basal Growth

    Basal Growth
    © Marie Iannotti

    If you look closely at the early bloomers that have started to droop, you will probably see new growth at the base of the plant. This is called basal growth and it's a signal that the plant is ready to rejuvenate itself. The example here is a hardy Geranium. Other plants that will do this are fern leaf Dicentra and mallow.

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  • 08 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Pruning to Rejuvenate

    De-Leafing Tired Foliage
    © Marie Iannotti

    When a plant's older leaves start to look worn, you should prune the foliage back either to where there is still fresh growth or all the way back to new basal growth, if there is any. Many new gardeners can't bear the idea of cutting back an entire plant, but this is tough love and your plants will thank you.

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  • 09 of 09

    Garden Maintenance: Cutting Back to Shape Plants

    Pruning Plants
    © Marie Iannotti

    Finally, there is a type of cutting back that has nothing to do with removing old flowers or leaves. Some plants, especially fall bloomers, will grow tall and gangly and not be able to support themselves.

    This photo shows New England asters that are growing tall, but not filling out. Once these plants set flowers they will fall over. To encourage the plants to become stockier, cut the plant by 1/3, once it has reached about 6-8 inches in height. This will encourage it to send out more stems.

    Let...MORE it grow about a month and then cut it back by 1/3 again. Now your plant should grow into a full, stocky plant with multiple stems and multiple blooms. The flowers may bloom a bit later than if you hadn't cut, but there will be more.

    With a little regular pinching, deadheading, and pruning, your flower garden will be healthier, more lush, and will stay in bloom throughout the season. Another bonus is that the more time you spend up close to your plants, the greater the chance of you noticing any problems while there is still time to correct them. Garden maintenance is the heart of gardening.