A GROWING CONCERN: Deadhead or pinch for big payoffs

I’VE GOT TO say, it’s really sad.

After teaching continuing education at Peninsula College for two decades my stint is over on May 19 as I wrap up a two-week course on “Greenhouses — Paradise found.”

Budget restraints have caused a discontinuation of all community education, and alas, that applies to yours truly.

However, you can enroll for my last big hooraw party and enroll in the greenhouse class — item SO14, C-GB021 which meets Sunday, May 12 and 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Dungeness River Center in Sequim. Cost is $107, including a greenhouse tour as well.

But since I am thinking about my greenhouse days, let me pass on to you some of my best horticulture tricks.

I love it when I receive a truckload of gorgeous flowers from the nursery. The fun part is watching people’s reactions as I pinch (cutoff the tops) on various plants.

“What are you doing to those flowers?”

“Have you ever planted before?”

“Where’s your supervisor?”

“Why would you remove all the flowers?”

Why would I cut away all the flowers? Because one must spend flowers to make flowers.

Nowhere in the plant world is pinching and deadheading more important for improved longevity and increased flower yield than in your summer flowers.

Know the terms.

Deadhead: Remove completely only the old flower, flower stalk and or flower-head of a blooming plant.

Deadheading is essential to annuals or prolific perennials and bi-annuals for several reasons, contributing to longer bloom cycles and a noticeable improvement in overall plant quality.

By not removing old blooms, summer flowers move into seed production, which hardens off the flower tip, causing far fewer new buds to be produced.

The plant directs itself to seed production at the expense of new leaves, buds and stems.

Most beneficial deadheading removes flower tissue which is the most succulent tender, moist, juicy, flavorful, easy to digest part of the plant tissue and thus, a magnet to disease and insects.

Gray molds, especially, can establish themselves on old flowers within three to four days.

They can destroy not only the host plant, but also spread through the whole plant like a windblown wildfire.

Deadheading virtually eliminates this problem, and proper watering can do the rest.

Pinch: Remove the tip of a plant, branch or stem, taking with that cut at least one full node or leaf set.

Pinching has a major advantage over deadheading because it is a form of pruning.

All pruning is stimulating, and pruning by pinching creates whole new branches and stems. Those develop whole new flowers that would never exist if the plant were merely deadheaded.

This is why pinching must take off at least on full set of leaves and remove the terminal tip.

The plant responds to that loss by creating two or more new branches, each containing it’s own growth and flowering tip.

So, a blooming plant with one branch pinched creates perhaps three new ones.

When those are pinched, they create nine that all bloom like crazy. Those will get pinched a third time in August for 27 branches.

Got the picture?

One spindly little zinnia or dahlia gets pinched and all summer long you get 300-to-1,000 percent more blooms.

Two disadvantages exist in pinching, which cause many people not to perform this vital summer chore.

People gasp and squirm in great discomfort when I pinch summer flowers.

That’s because pinching removes as many as six new flower buds. Pinching also delays a new flowers by 10 to 20 days.

By comparison, deadheading alone has no delay factor, and in fact, can slightly increase new bloom time.

I advise the very savvy gardener to use both methods.

Each week, pinch 10 to 15 percent of the plant and deadhead the remainder.

Over the summer, you will have pinched the whole plant or area twice or more.

Do these tasks now, especially as the first blooms fade on your geraniums, petunias, marigolds, zinnias, dahlias, celosia, static, stock, salvia, veronica and verbena.

Would you like to know why Butchart Gardens looks so good? Ever see any dead flowers on their millions of plants? I didn’t think so.

Part of the reason is that 20-plus people a day, deadhead and pinch the grounds each morning.

It is a mandatory passage of the summer garden.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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