Dead Heading for Continued Flowering
Dead-heading means more than drifting around with a trug, the secateurs and a dreamy air. Most plants have one specific aim in life, to flower and form seed: as soon as their seeds are ripe, retire for the year while and , their life-cycle complete, will shortly die. But we gardeners have other plans for them — we would like them to decorate our gardens by flowering for the longest possible time. By removing their faded flowerheads, many plants are persuaded to make valiant efforts to produce yet more flowers.
If you want to keep up the display of roses (except the old-fashioned kinds that only flower once, or those species and cultivars that produce good hips) they must be dead-headed. Cut the dead flowers off neatly with secateurs just above the second or third strong-looking leaf below the dead flower — a new shoot will form at this point. It is tempting to deadhead dahlias by the nipping-off-flowerhead method, but you end up with a lot of unsightly stalks. Cut off the faded bloom and stalk together, just above a leaf. If you remove the crumpled bells of Campanula persicifolia , new ones will form and you can even convince a columbine () that it should produce more flowers by frustrating its attempts to set seed. There are many other plants that will not only bloom for much longer, but also look prettier while they are doing it, that deserve the small effort dead-heading requires. But spare the secateurs with plants that have a second season of beauty with their seedheads such as: , Clematis, Dierama, Dipsacus, foetidissima, , Nigella damascena, Papaver, Pennisetum, Phlomis, Physalis, ..
In some cases the reason for dead-heading is to prevent the plant from wasting its energies producing unwanted seed. Young Rhododendron, lilacs and other flowering shrubs benefit from having their green, newly-formed seedheads removed, andand corms (unless you want them to seed themselves) should be using their strength for building up next year’s storage organ, so pinch off the old flower at the top of the flower stem.
There is no better way of keeping in touch with your plants than by hand weeding — you would miss so much if somebody else did it for you. By working near the plants you are instantly reminded of their needs: you might see a plant that needs urgent division as it has become overcrowded, another that is fainting from lack of water or yet another that the slugs are starting to attack. And, when you have finished the bed, comes the best part of all: standing in the sun, doing nothing in particular, lost in admiration of a weed-free bed.
With weeding, as with many otherjobs, timing is most important. Put it off for a week or two, and you have double the work to do. Weeds are brilliantly adapted to survival: thistles, dandelions and groundsel send their offspring off on parachutes to new ground; ground elder and establish colonies beneath the soil; and hairy bittercress, shepherd’s purse and annual meadow grass are adept at ripening and shedding their seed in a matter of days, even in winter. There are also those ‘weeds’ that we ourselves introduce to the garden such as the welsh poppy or the white form of the rosebay willow herb that are as dangerous in behaviour as they are beautiful to behold.
To keep control of these masters of survival, you have to work systematically through a bed, when it is due for weeding, and try to get it all done in one session. Dig out deep-rooted weeds like a dandelion properly, making sure its flowerheads do not seed.
There are twoof the year when it is vital to be in control. The first is early in spring, when small weeds are busy concealing themselves beneath bulb foliage and the expanding leaves of . You have to be specially vigilant at this time, or they will have shed their seed unnoticed. The second time of year is on the cusp between spring and summer, when there is a great surge of growth. The cleaner you get your flower beds at this time, the less work you will have later in summer. As soon as this hard work is done, choose a time when the soil is thoroughly moist and spread a thick about 10cm (4in) deep round the plants, smothering weed seeds intent on germination.
Methods of weeding vary: a hoe or a small fork-on a long or short handle is useful, but never use a hoe near surface-rooting plants, such as heathers and Rhododendron — you could seriously damage the roots. When there is hot, drying sun the weeds will shrivel fast, so they can be left on the surface of the soil. But when weeding in cooler weather, make sure the weeds get properly buried, or pick them out by hand. Some people walk all over the bed, taking out weeds with a trowel and putting them in a bucket; they then go back and loosen the compacted soil with a garden fork.
Weeds with long tap-roots like dandelions and docks, that are growing in awkward places, can be dealt with by painting the leaves with an appropriate selective weedkiller. Bindweed stems and leaves can be dipped into a jar of a systemic weedkiller.
Have the greatest respect for all garden chemicals; apply them with care as a misdirected splash could kill a nearby plant. Keep all products safely out of the reach of children and pets and have separate equipment for use only with chemicals. Always follow the instructions with care, wear rubber gloves and wash your hands and all equipment afterwards.