Mickey Rathbun: Keeping your garden happy

  • Coreopsis Kurt Stüber/wikimedia commons

Published: 7/21/2016 6:02:18 PM

Deadheading. It’s a not very nice word for a not very nice task. Nonetheless, gardeners avoid it at the risk of letting their plants go to seed, literally.

Deadheading has two primary functions. For perennials, deadheading is a way of keeping things neat and attractive. There’s nothing sadder-looking than a plant whose flowers are brown and withered on the stalk. Trimming back dead flowers gives a perennial a fresh new look, even if it’s not going to produce new blooms. Astilbe and peonies, for example, will not put on a second act.

Some perennials are likely to rebloom if trimmed. Delphinium, Physostegia virginiana (obedient plant) and Digitalis grandiflora (foxglove) are among many perennials with potential for second, even third, bloom cycles. After first blooms are spent, cut down to a bud, or if no buds are present, cut the old flowering stem to a lateral leaf. Finally, when the second flush is finished, cut down to basal foliage. Fertilizer will help at this stage.

Some bushy perennials such as Nepeta and Coreopsis grandiflora enjoy a full haircut. Cutting back the foliage into a nice shapely mound promotes reblooming. The new flowers will be smaller, on shorter stalks, but they have the advantage of being less likely to flop from the center.

Deadleafing is another way to spruce up your garden as summer wears on. Daylilies, iris and Dicentra spectabilis (the larger leafed bleeding heart, not Dicentra formosa, or “Dutchman’s britches”) are among the perennials that tend to turn yellow as the summer wears on. Cutting back the dying foliage will not diminish the plant’s health or strength for the following year’s bloom season.

Deadheading annuals has a more important function than merely cosmetic. Annuals complete their life cycle in one season. They bloom, the blooms fade, and left to their own devices, they launch into production of next year’s seeds.

Chances are that you’re hoping for more flowers rather than a good seed harvest. By pinching off seedpods, you allow the plant to put its energy into producing blossoms rather than seeds.

Annuals also enjoy more vigorous cutting back. When they’re looking leggy and bedraggled, cut them back to where you can see new sets of leaves emerging. You may feel as if you’re decapitating perfectly good plants, but be patient. In a week or two, you’ll enjoy a flush of new flowers.

While you’re deadheading, you should also consider giving your plants some liquid fertilizer to encourage regrowth. Heavy feeders such as petunias will appreciate the boost.

P.S. More critter-busting ideas: One reader said that she placed old computer discs in her garden and the rabbits stayed away after that. Another said she had good luck with a few floating mylar balloons tied to the fence around her vegetable patch. Good luck!

Williamsburg Farms & Gardens Tour

Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Williamsburg is putting on a Farms and Gardens Tour that will feature some of the town’s most spectacular gardens as well as innovative livestock and vegetable farms.

The farms on view include “Joe’s Farm,” which supplies the Northampton Brewery with fresh vegetables, and Valley View Farm on Walpole Road, a property that has been farmed since Williamsburg was a part of Hatfield.

The tour will also feature Carol Duke’s beautiful Flower Hill Farm (see caroldukeflowers.com). The tour will benefit the Williamsburg Libraries.

Tickets for the self-guided tour are on sale at the Meekins Library and Village Green Greenhouse. The cost is $20 per family/group. The tour will include cookies and lemonade.

Smith College Art Museum Landscape Exhibition

Smith College Art Museum has a terrific exhibition on view: The Lay of the Land: Contemporary Landscapes from the Collection. It includes a wide variety of contemporary perspectives on the American landscape in its natural, altered or re-imagined forms.

Featuring a range of topographies — from cultivated lands to forest and desert — The Lay of the Land highlights new acquisitions as well as works being displayed for the first time. Some works render the landscape realistically, while others recast nature in abstract terms. Some illuminate natural forces or natural wonders, from the devastating aftermath of the eruption of Mount St. Helens to the fragile beauty of rainbows. Others address the effects of human interventions — artistic or otherwise — on the environment.

Local landscapes by local artists are a special feature of the exhibition, a visual reminder not only of the many scenic splendors of the region but its wealth of artistic talent. The exhibition will run through Sept. 11.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.


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