How to Keep Your Annuals Blooming All Summer
I was showing a gardening friend around my garden one day when she asked me, “How do you keep your flowers blooming all summer? Mine bloom and then die. What’s your secret?” I replied that I deadhead them and she asked what that meant.
Deadheading is a term that predates the Grateful Dead and their fans. I learned it as child from my mother. It was something that I thought everyone knew about. I didn’t realize what an advantage it was growing up with a gardener in the family. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but my mother always had a beautiful flower garden at every house we ever lived in. A green thumb runs in the family. Her mother lived in an apartment that was filled with houseplants. My friend was a first generation gardener and relied on books, the internet and fellow gardeners like me.
What is deadheading?
To deadhead a plant means removing the dead flowers from it before they produce seed. Besides making the plant look neater, why do I do that?
To understand why, you need to know a little about herbaceous (non-woody) plants. They come in three varieties: annuals, perennials and biennials. Annuals are plants that have a lifespan of one season. They grow, flower, set seed and die within one growing season. Good examples are marigolds and zinnias. A biennial is a plant whose lifecycle lasts two seasons. The first season, it grows and establishes its foliage. The second year, it blooms, makes seeds and then dies. Foxgloves are popular biennials. A perennial is a plant that lasts many years, usually 5 to 9. It reproduces both by seed and by shoots (new plants that grow from the mother plant) or runners (a type of stem that grows along the ground and produces new plants along its length). Delphiniums and Shasta daisies are perennials.
Deadheading only works well on annuals. That’s because when they bloom, if you remove the dead flower before it makes seeds, the plant will try to make seeds again by creating another flower. Remember, their mission in life is to make seeds and die in one year. Removing spent flowers prevents them from doing that. They will continue to make flowers until you allow them to go to seed or the frost kills them.
Deadheading biennials is not a good idea. They may have neither the energy to produce another flower nor the time to produce more flowers before the weather becomes either too hot or too cold for them. With the exception of some new varieties of perennials that have been specifically bred to bloom more than once during their growing season, deadheading perennials doesn’t work. Remember, they don’t depend on seeds to reproduce and they will have another chance next year to flower and set seed.
I grow most of my annuals from seed, so I like to save seeds from my flowers this year for next year. I deadhead them all summer and stop after Labor Day (I’m in NJ, zone 6) allowing them to go to seed which I then collect for next year or allow to fall naturally into the garden where they will germinate in the spring. Seed saving is an entire topic by itself, so all that I will say about it here is that it only works on OP or open pollinated plants, not the popular hybrids that you buy from the nursery. That’s because when a plant is hybridized, it is a cross of two varieties. If you recall your high school biology, you will know that the resulting plants will have a mix of genetic material that will be scrambled in their offspring. The plants that you get from seeds collected from hybrid plants will look nothing like the plants from which you collected the seeds. Some hybrids produce sterile seeds.
To ensure that the annuals you buy from the nursery bloom all summer, take some time every few days to remove all of the dead and dying flowers from them. You will be rewarded with months of color.
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© 2012 Caren White
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