February can be a bleak time on the East Coast. Days are short and the sky hangs low on the horizon. But there’s a small-sized perennial whose early, colorful blooms never fail to lift my spirits. It’s the lovely, cup-shaped flower Helleborusorientalis, commonly known as the Lenten Rose. Continue reading →
Most flowering plants need lots of sun to keep on blooming. Still, over time, the blooms often start to diminish. That’s where deadheading can make all the difference. Not only does it keep plants looking neat, but it also promotes new growth and re-flowering. And, there’s nothing quite like getting a plant to re-bloom that otherwise looks done for the season.
WHAT IS DEADHEADING?
Simply put, deadheading is the practice of removing spent (dead) flower heads from a plant.
Dried poppy seed heads
All plants follow the same life cycle; that is, they grow, produce flowers, set seeds and die. No sooner do the blooms fade, and a plant turns its energy to setting seed. That said, by removing spent blooms, you can delay production of seeds. This in turn redirects energy to flowering. The result is a healthier, more vigorous plant that blooms for a longer period of time.
HOW TO DEADHEAD
Regular deadheading benefits all blooming plants. However, the world of flowers is diverse and many species require their own specific methods. Here are tips on how to deadhead six key types of flowering plants:
Clusters of flowers with leaves on their stems
Purple garden phlox
These types of flowers include tall, leggy plants like phlox, yarrow, daisies. To keep your plant looking neat, remove the spent flowers just before they die back completely.
A good rule of thumb is to reach into the plant and prune the spent flowers back to the first or second set of leaves. This not only helps hide the cut, but it also encourages the plant to bush out as it produces new blooms. I vary the lengths at which I cut to keep the plant shapely.
Flowers with no leaves on their stems
Long-stemmed orange daylily
Flowers like daylilies and hostas have no leaves on their stems. Cut the entire stalk back to the base of the plant once it has finished flowering.
Multiple flower spikes of salvia make pruning tedious
Once the initial flush of flower spikes start to brown, salvias look like they’re done for the season. With proper deadheading, however, you can encourage them to keep on blooming.
What may at first glance look like a single flower stalk is actually three flower stalks growing together – a central stem surrounded by two, smaller ones on either side. As soon as the central stalk starts to wither, remove it. This will encourage the side shoots to grow. Then, once the side shoots lose their color, cut them off too.
Deadheading salvias in this way can encourage the plant to re-bloom at least twice and sometimes three times during the season, especially if you feed it mid way through the summer. Try one of these stunners for great summer color: Salvia patens Cambridge Blue, bright red SalviaJezebel, or the traditional purple/blue favorite Salvia x sylvestris May Night.
Bushy plants with small flowers
Bushy perennials like coreopsis can be encouraged to produce a second round of blooms way past their typical flowering time.
However, it can be tedious deadheading so many tiny flowers. Instead, I grab big chunks of spent blooms in one hand and shear them back with a pair of long-blade shears in the other. This not only encourages the plant to re-bloom a week or so later, it keeps thinks looking tidy. Try soft yellow Coreopsis Moonbeam for reliable blooms all summer.
With roses, the number to know is ‘5’
Most of us know that roses need to be deadheaded to flourish. Remove withered blooms by pruning back to above a five-leaflet leaf, cutting on an angle.
Geraniums need consistent deadheading to look their best
All annuals need to be deadheaded regularly to thrive (with the possible exception of begonias, in which case you should prune the leaves.) Popular annuals like geraniums and petunias must be constantly snipped, pinched or cut back to keep flowers looking neat and to encourage blooming. For a more in-depth tutorial on how to prune these annuals, click here for How To Keep Your Potted Plants In Shape All Summer.
Butterfly weed is a prolific self-seeder
Some flowers, like columbine, echinacea and butterfly weed are prolific self-seeders. If you’re looking to produce lots of new baby plants, leave the seed heads on and they’ll quickly spread around your garden.
DEADHEADING WON’T DAMAGE THE PLANT
It’s rare to damage a plant by cutting it. Use common sense while removing spent flowers, taking care to hide your cuts under existing foliage. Remember to sterilize your pruners regularly to prevent spreading disease between plants. You’ll reap the rewards of a new flush of blooms!
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In the plant world, spring flowers are in a class of their own. Bursting to life after a long, cold winter, they never fail to evoke feelings of happiness. And spring gardens bring hope this time of year, renewing our faith in life and everything growing.
Here are ten of my favorite spring flowers that will only grow more beautiful year after year.
Celebrated for their enormous blooms, these low-maintenance spring garden favorites will live on for generations. Peonies generally start blooming in late May and continue flowering well into June. The plants perform best in full sun. And many are fragrant, in particular the double white and pink varieties.
After the flowers fade, peonies’ deep green leaves stay looking good most of the summer. I use them to add bulk to my garden and to prop up other flowers. I cut them down to the ground in the fall.
Smaller and less showy than the bearded irises, these delicate plants produce a wealth of spring blooms on tall, elegant stems, usually in shades of blue or purple. The flowers are characterized by three petals on top and three below called falls. There are tiny varieties that grow to only about a foot and larger ones that can reach three feet tall. And their bright green grassy foliage adds a nice vertical dimension to the garden.
The botanical name aquilegia comes from the Latin ‘aquila’ meaning eagle; a reference to the flower’s petals that are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. Aquilegia’s beautiful nodding blooms come in dainty shades of purple, red, yellow, blue and white. A hardy perennial, columbine will grow in sun but prefers partial shade, especially in the afternoon. After a few years, it often dies out. But, it easily self-seeds.
One of the ‘freshest’ perennials around, Lady’s Mantle acts like a cool splash of water amidst all the colors of the spring garden. Easily grown in full sun to part shade, this low-growing perennial forms clumps of circular, lobed leaves crowned by tiny, star-shaped chartreuse flowers held aloft on 12″ to 18″ stems in late spring to early summer.
Tuck it under upright plants at the front of the border to disguise stems and dimension to your border.
Iris germanica, tall bearded iris
Tall and stately, bearded irises make a grand statement in the May garden. I go all-out and plant the deep purple varieties that provide great contrast with other pastel spring colors. Bearded irises grow from rhizomes, or sideways-growing stems, so they should never be buried completely in the ground. The plants need at least 6 hours of direct sun to flower.
Commonly known as blue false indigo, this beautiful native plant is growing in popularity. The upright perennial has 10″ to 12″ spikes of violet-blue, pea-shaped flowers that can last up to four weeks. Typically growing 3 to 4 feet tall, baptisia australis forms a large clump of bluish-green, clover like leaves that over time take on a shrub-like appearance. This makes it an excellent addition to the back of the border.
This front-of border perennial forms large mats of brilliantly-colored, star-shaped flowers in blues, pinks and purples. Plants have semi-evergreen, needle-like foliage that produce long, spreading stems. However, the plant tends to get woody over time, so best to cut out older sections to encourage new blooms.
If you’ve got part-shade, nothing says spring garden like Brunnera macrophylla, also known as false forget-me-not. The low-growing plant produces miniature, sky-blue flowers atop heart-shaped leaves in shades ranging from bright green to green with white or silver. The leaves form clumps that look great all season. For best impact, try silvered-leaved Jack Frost, or even larger-leaved Alexander’s Great.
A short-lived perennial known for its beautiful, tall flower spikes, verbascum adds an important vertical element to the spring garden. Easily grown in full sun to part shade (although it prefers full sun), the plant produces 2′ to 3′ flowering stems bearing long terminal spikes of 1′ diameter flowers in pastel shades of cream, lavender or rose. It easily self-seeds, but best to plan on replanting each year as an annual for best results. Tall silvery-gray leaves look great in the back of the border.
Not to be confused with annual geraniums, hardy geraniums (commonly known as Cranesbill) come in different shades of pinks, purples and blues often with deeper colored veins that look like whiskers. Most varieties start flowering in late spring and continue blooming well into the summer. The plant thrives in full sun at the front of the flower border.
My favorite is lavender-blue Rozanne. Other great varieties are crimson-throated, deep pink Patricia, unbelievable mauve-pink Miss Heidi, whose petals look like they were painted with butterfly wings and light pink with bronze tinted Ingwersen’s Variety.
Ornamental onion, Allium
A spectacular addition to any spring garden, alliums nonetheless take some advance planning. Their giant, onion-sized bulbs must be planted in late fall.
Come spring, most alliums make their appearance in late April when large florets of tongue-like foliage become visible on the soil surface. The foliage is followed by the emergence of tall, upright stems carrying a single round ‘flower.’ Composed of hundreds of tiny star-shaped blooms, the huge spheres tower over other flowers, injecting a playful note into the spring border.
My favorite variety is the impossibly large Globemaster, with deep purple Gladiator a close second. But don’t stop there; there are many varieties to choose from including the unusually shaped Drumstick, the fireworks-like Schubertii and the all-white Mount Everest.
Yesterday I supervised the planting of 5,000 spring-flowering bulbs. We laid them out in patterns and dug them one-by-one into the earth. When we were finished, we dressed the bulbs with mulch and all stepped back to admire our handiwork. You could almost sense the pulse of spring making its way up from underground. Continue reading →
As a child, I was always drawn to shady nooks. In my mind, a deep green space spoke of mystery with its long shadows and dappled play of light. This fascination has continued into my adulthood. Only now, these same sensations inspire my designs, particularly when it comes to creating a shade garden. Continue reading →
When we locals look to get away from it all, many of us head to a garden property known as Dumbarton Oaks. And this May, I had the pleasure of taking a private tour of the estate. It was an opportune time, not only for appreciating the spectacular flowers from behind the scenes, so to speak, but also for the magnificent spring weather . Continue reading →
New York City’s Macy’s Day Parade is an American fall tradition with its festive floats, high school marching bands and trademark balloons. But until this weekend, I had never heard of another spectacular show sponsored each spring by the 100-year-old department store. That is, the Macy’s Flower Show; a show so big that it transforms an entire floor of the giant Herald Square building into a veritable garden extravaganza. Continue reading →
Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start coming up mid-winter. As weather becomes more unpredictable, early growth is becoming more and more common. Not to worry, though. Your spring bulbs have seen it all before. Moreover, they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF BULBS
To understand why spring bulbs can tolerate a little premature growth, it helps to take a peek underground.
Botanically speaking, your bulb is a short stem surrounded by leaves that store food during dormancy. As soon as you plant it in the fall, it starts growing.
Bulbs have five main parts: a basal plate, scale leaves, protective tunic, flowering shoot and lateral buds. Growth begins in the basal plate. During the winter months, roots emerge from this modified stem to penetrate the soil.
As they develop, the roots absorb water and other nutrients that they store in the scale leaves.
In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic keeps the scales from damage or drying out.
Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out
The scale leaves also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the future leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the flowering shoot grows slowly upwards within the bulb. Eventually, it develops into a stem.
Sometime in winter, the leaves break through the soil. Then approximately one month later, the flower buds begin to appear.
At this stage in the process, the key thing to remember is: the flowers develop independently of the leaves.
This means that even if your bulbs (specifically, leaves) come up early, the flowering shoots still need time (between 5 and 7 weeks) to develop. And before that happens, your bulbs have most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.
So if you see leaves poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause them to yellow and die back, but the bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once things warm back up again.
WAYS TO SLOW BULBS FROM COMING UP TOO EARLY
There are a few strategies, however, that you can implement now to slow things down while providing an extra layer of protection to the flowering shoot.
1. COVER YOUR PLANT
Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will help insulate them against frigid temperatures and drying winds. Mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves and pine needles are all great alternatives.
Or, if your bulb is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Make sure to remove the drape during the day, though, so the leaves can absorb sunlight, which produces heat.
2. WATER DURING DRY SPELLS
Always water your bulbs immediately after planting to settle the soil and get the roots growing. Spring bulbs are generally considered to be drought-tolerant. However, if there’s been a dry spell for an extended period of time, you should water them once a week until conditions improve.
Make sure your soil has good drainage, though. Bulbs can rot if they receive too much water.
3. IF FLOWERS START TO APPEAR
If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually won’t affect flowering in the coming months. And it won’t destroy your bulbs. They’ll still flower next year.
4. PLANT BULBS LATE IN THE FALL
The later in the fall you plant, the longer the bulb will take to sprout come spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs to ensure they’re fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my daffodils in late November.
Finally, make sure to plant your bulbs at three times their height in depth with the basal plate down and the growing tip up. Planting bulbs too shallow makes them vulnerable to frost heaves and can lead to premature growth. And planting them upside down can stunt their growth.
For a list of ten popular spring bulbs and when and how to plant them, click here.
Author’s note January 2020:According to Science News, there is growing evidence that, in general, warmer springs are bringing earlier spring flowers. This in turn will result in longer growing seasons and drier summers. (This does not, however, mean daffodils in January.)
Here in Maryland we are having an unseasonably warm winter. In fact, it’s 65 here today on February 3. Below is a photo illustrating the state of my daffodils. (The leaves are about 3″ tall.) I’ll keep you posted as to their development.
My own daffodils on February 3
Same daffodils on February 24 – all foliage, luckily no blooms!
Looking for garden ideas? I post my designs regularly on Instagram @carole.herebydesign
In painting, black is the deepest hue. It gives structure to a composition by creating the illusion of depth and drawing the eye. And in the garden, black (or almost black) flowers attract attention, too, while creating dramatic contrast with other colors. I often include black plants in my designs just to pump up the volume. Continue reading →
Memorial Day weekend is a big weekend for gardeners. Nurseries are teeming with bright-colored annuals, perennials in full bloom, and a seemingly endless selection of flowering plants, shrubs and trees. It’s enough to make even the most experienced of gardeners a little bit crazed. Continue reading →