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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deadheading Summer Garden Plants

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright Jim Long, 2013

One of the jobs I’ve given my garden interns this season is deadheading. Our first intern from Pennsylvania, arrived in early April and stayed through mid-June. Our second intern came from Minnesota and worked for a shorter period. Both, however, had never heard the term, deadheading, nor understood its purpose. I’m pleased to say they went away fully grasping its importance in the garden.

Perennial herbs such as sage, lavender, hyssop, thyme and a few others that come into blooming in the spring need some deadheading. They look picture-perfect for several weeks before the flowers wither and the plants begin to look leggy. Unless you do some pruning of the flower stalks after they bloom - called deadheading, the plants will likely die out in spots. This is particularly true of creeping thyme and sage (lavender, too, if you want it to bloom a second time). Prune off the flower stalks to encourage new growth.

Roses, too, benefit greatly from being deadheaded. Even the perpetual bloomers will try to set seed and when a plant does that, its chemistry changes and the plant resources go mostly toward growing seed. Simply pruning back the limb tips where the roses have withered will encourage more blooming.

If you don’t deadhead or prune back the blooming tips of basil plants, the leaves will turn bitter and stop producing. Left un-pruned, basil will quickly go to flowering, produce seed and the plant will die. For the best flavor and healthy growth, all basil plants should be pruned with scissors about every ten days. You can prune back up to a third of the plant without doing any damage, and what you will receive in return for your efforts is tender, tasty new basil leaves for cooking and pesto.

Even annual plants like broccoli need the process of pruning. That head of broccoli we like to eat, is actually the beginning of the flowering process. If you left broccoli alone and didn’t cut out the broccoli heads, it would start blooming.

Those of us who’ve received no rainfall for several weeks need to start mulching our vegetable beds in earnest. A thick layer of straw, 6-8 inches deep, helps hold in the moisture. Watering every 4-5 days instead of daily is recommended for all garden plants. Watering at the base of plants like tomatoes, peppers and beans is best. One of the ways to encourage mildew and fungus problems is by spraying the leaves of plants instead of watering their roots, so we all want to avoid that.

It’s the season of ripe tomatoes, sweet, tasty roasting ears and lots of green beans. Happy gardening!