Off with their heads!

Throughout the growing season, I indulge my inner Red Queen. Deadheading, cutting back, pinching out, thinning; off with their heads!

I have many self-sown annuals in the garden, but I don’t want a thousand of them. I regularly deadhead the calendula and cosmos to prevent seed production and to encourage more blossoms. Unless you want rosehips, deadheading your roses will result in more blooms. Deadheading also keeps the garden looking tidy and helps your plants stay in top form. I love to have fresh flowers in the house, so picking flowers (including the blossoms on the chives) is proactive deadheading with a bonus; lovely arrangements in my home and tasty additions to our salad. Carefully deadhead your lilacs and rhododendrons, without damaging the emerging shoots beside the flower clusters, to have healthy new growth. When deadheading shasta daisies, snapdragons or toad flax, cut the stem back to just above a new side shoot.

The first bud on artichokes is called the terminal bud. If you snip it off while it is small-ish, the plant will put out side shoots with more buds. Many flowering plants benefit from “pinching out”. This is the same idea as with the artichokes, but don’t wait until you have buds. Snapdragons, cosmos, sweet peas and fuchsias all perform better if you pinch out the growing tips while the plants are small. This will result in side shoots and bushier plants with more flowers. Indeterminate tomatoes perform better if the little shoots that emerge at the leaf axils are pinched out.

Cutting back flowering shrubs after they have bloomed keeps them from getting leggy and diverts the plant’s energy from seed production to new growth. Cutting back woody plants, like sage and rosemary, can prevent them from getting too large and sprawling, with long unproductive stalks. Some plants will eventually thin out in the middle, creating a halo around an empty centre. That means it is time to divide the plant. Actively cutting back outside shoots can prevent this in plants like mint. Some plants, such as creeping rosemary, will set down roots where stems touch the ground. This can create a monster plant that will invade more garden space. Pulling up the shoots and cutting them back behind those secondary roots can keep them in check.

Thinning your seedlings ensures that your plants have room to grow and lessens the competition for sunlight, nutrients and water. Overcrowding can result in weak plants with lower yields. I tend to seed a bit sparsely with things that have high germination rates (like radishes) to lessen waste. However, not all seeds are created equal. Beet seeds are actually pods that contain two or more seeds. With good germination, you will end up with crowded beet seedlings. You can snip off the extra plants at the soil level and toss the sprouts into your salad, or carefully remove them and replant them in a new row.  There is one tip, though, about thinning. Mark your seeded rows carefully. Know what the emerging seedlings look like. Many seedlings have cotyledons that don’t look like the true leaves. If you are weeding before true leaves have appeared, you may inadvertently pull up your seedlings. This is over-thinning. Been there, done that.

So, sharpen your secateurs and off with their heads!