A recent visit to Devon to see my parents provided the ideal opportunity to do a bit of what I call ‘titivating’ – those light garden jobs that aren’t too strenuous. Deadheading being a prime example – a delightful way to spend a summer’s evening, enjoying the garden while doing something to improve it.
Plants such as dahlias and sweet peas benefit enormously from having their spent flowers removed because it stops them setting seed. Once they’ve set seed – fulfilled their reproductive purpose, as it were – they either die (if they’re annuals like sweet peas) – or they begin to flower less. A bit like people I guess – sometimes they stop trying so hard once they’ve had kids!
With dahlias it can be difficult to distinguish the spent flowers from the flower buds, as once the petals have fallen they look pretty similar. Just remember that flower buds are rounded, while seedheads are longer and more pointed. In the picture above, the spent flower which needs to be removed is on the left, while the flower bud which is about to bloom is in the middle of the photo.
With some plants, deadheading is the cue to do something a bit more drastic. If you have small evergreen shrubs which have finished their main flowering period, such as most lavenders, shrubby herbs and hebes, put the scissors away and grab your secateurs or shears. Most of this type of plant will benefit from a light prune at this time of year. Once the flowers are over, give the bush a light all-over trim, taking it back to a neat cushion.
Pruning this way keeps these plants nice and compact – they’ll re-grow slightly to make a tidy bush which will look good over winter and then flower again next year. Don’t cut them too hard – make sure you leave at least a few leaves on each stem, otherwise they’ll sulk and may die. If left un-pruned they quickly become leggy and unsightly, so it’s well worth a pleasant half-hour in the sunshine at this time of year.
So, to give your garden that extra ‘flower power’, get snipping!