Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Last Ounce of Summer Color
through Fred's Garden Gate! "What?! Foxgloves that bloom twice in one season?
Whats that you say
delphiniums, too? And lupines? Even my perennial geraniums?
I never heard of such a thing!"
Thats right, McGee! There really is a flower garden Santa Claus! More than a few perennials and quite a number of annuals, too will either flower a second time during our brief growing season, or may even bloom almost continuously. How? You may have heard it a dozen times from books, articles and on TV garden shows. This time, however, lets help it sink in deeply and permanently.
First, answer a couple of quick questions. Why does a plant produce flowers, pollen and fragrance, anyway? Answer: for no other reason than to encourage pollination and, ultimately, to produce seeds (or fruit, nuts, berries) and therefore, to reproduce itself! It has only one, single, urgent requirement in it's brief life: to have babies...to make more of itself. No...it's not there to be pretty and provide humans with beauty and a proof in the existence of deity; it's not there to provide bees with honey and pollen—though most flowering plants do that very well. Seeds! Plants have got to make seeds!
Well now, suppose the plant is denied fulfillment of that one, urgent, driving and inflexible duty of reproducing itself by seeds? Answer: it has no alternative it MUST keep trying! And there is the solution—if you dont allow seeds to mature on many flowering plants, they have a duty to at least attempt to make more ergo: more flowers! BUT once one tiny seed or seed pod actually matures to the point of sprouting on its own, the plants duty—destiny, if you like—is fulfilled. Its done. Thats about all the flowers youll squeeze out of it. OK, so much for the technical stuff. Now lets get to the nitty-gritty.
DEADHEADING! So now lets get out there and whack off all those useless seed heads and pods before they begin to mature. Remember: If you don't let it have babies...it has to keep trying!
First the FOXGLOVES (digitalis). Remember that foxgloves are a biennial that means they normally grow for one season, winter over, come up the next spring, bloom and then die so you really want to squeeze as much color out of them as you can. As each flower along the stem fades and drops, remove the seed pods. When all thats left are a few pitiful flowers out on the very tip, cut the stem down to the first obvious lateral (usually down to about 12- to 18-inches) and feed with a high middle number (phosphorus for flowers). Consider allowing the seed pods from this second-generation of flowers to mature and fall so therell be some seedlings for the following spring.
Now lets move on to the DELPHINIUMS. While delphiniums are actually a full perennial (returning year-after-year, with care and maintenance), youll do almost exactly the same thing for them. This tall perennial isnt going to reward your diligence with an abundant display of tall and magnificent spikes, but therell be enough color to fill in some of those late-summer color-gaps. Dont bother to save the second-generation seeds; likely as not they wont germinate in average Northern New England garden soil at least not without heroics.
Next comes LUPINE. This showy, eye-catching, late-spring/early summer perennial would be happy to deliver a second series of equally-stunning color during July and even into August! Its the same ol story: get that first batch of seed pods off long before they mature. Allow second-growth seeds to remain on the plant if youd like a few seedlings to emerge next spring.
There are a few others which will respond to early deadheading. Some noteworthy varieties: columbine; some campanulas; shastas or shasta-like daisies; some of the coreopsis; monarda (beebalm); Ive even seen veronica (speedwell) continue to bloom after nearly-spent flower spikes are removed.
Dont limit your deadheading to perennials only. Most flowering annuals, too, will respond favorably to timely removal of spent flowers and early signs of seeds. Even the ones that are touted to be self-deadheading.
While a number of popular perennials will not rebloom after deadheading, they should, nonetheless be cleaned up just for appearances sake. Among them: achillea (yarrow); alchemilla (ladys mantle); anemone; most asters; daylilies; dianthus; gypsophila (babys breath); hosta; liatris (gayfeather); asiatic and oriental lilies; and others.
One final point: immediately after removal of spent flowers and immature seed heads or pods, a refreshing dose of high-phosphorus food should kick them right back into more— slightly-shorter—flower buds for continued color deep into summer—Miracle-Gro for annuals; granular ("steak n potatoes") for perennials (I recommend the use of Miracle-Gro only for annuals; not for perennials).
So, if youre sorely disappointed with the highly-noticeable color gaps in your late summer/early fall perennial flower beds while someone down the road still has magnificent color right up 'til frost, invest a few moments every morning, afternoon or evening strolling through your garden with a pail and pair of snips. Soon, neighbors and passersby will stop you on the street with the question: "How EVER do you get so much color in your garden this late in the season?!
Enjoy your late-summer garden!
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