MID-JULY — IT IS the calm before the storm. Your flowers all seem to be growing so well. In fact, they look marvelous. But wait, their sure-fire and rather quick demise is only a little more than a month away!
No fear, however. You need only to learn a few terms and perform a few tasks, such as adding a little nutrient and growing mediums, for dazzling results lasting into November.
Let me begin reminding everyone what is the driving force in all flowers: reproduction.
This means that right now, your plants are looking pretty good. Flowers are in abundance and buds are even thicker.
The nutrients in your soil are still somewhat available and the first blooms are ripening their seed.
Along with being warm, the days are still long. Your plants are very happy.
Soon, however, things will change drastically.
By mid-August all those flowers and buds will soon turn into seed heads.
The plants will also be much larger, and the cells older and less efficient. The leaves themselves would be very large, old and in poor shape, as well as being buried underneath the mass of blooms and dead flower heads.
Because of all the careful, loving waterings they have received, the nutrient — fertilizer added at planting — has leached down into the subsoil, out of the reach of the roots, and the ground surface is hard, crusted over and not freely letting air or water into or out of it.
Then, the weather itself changes in a month. The days will be noticeably shorter. The evening’s cooler. The dew point changes and moisture will linger well into the day, feeding rod and mildew — flowers mass murderers.
The plant knows it is time to give up and die, allowing the seeds to finish off and disperse.
I have always been able to capitalize on one thing in my career: plants are dumb.
They are easily fooled or tricked. That’s great because that is what we will be doing now.
Today, this afternoon and every time you water, walk around your yard and start the trickery.
At a bare minimum, deadhead flowers now. Before the actual flower is even dead is the best time to deadhead.
The perfect way is to cut off blooms when they are full blown, open, and only have a couple of days of show left.
This way, I have cut flowers all the time for vases and the plant itself will not receive any molecular code that flowers have successfully been pollinated.
Another bonus of early deadheading is there will be no blooms and succulent fragile petals lying around that will quickly turn into mold and mildew.
Make no mistake, mold and mildew from old flowerheads are usually the biggest disease problem for the gardener in the summer.
But if you want to get really professional, pinch back your plants a small percentage every few days.
Pinching means not only taking off the flower (or in most cases new flower buds), but also actually cutting away at least one set of leaves.
Keep in mind, almost all flowers have a few small leaflets close to the flower. These are not leaves but rather part of the flowerhead.
In pinching, take off a set of leaves or a node in order to force the plant to make entirely new branches. The more new branches, the more new flowers.
If every couple days, you take 2 percent here, 3 percent scattered across the plant there, then you will never denude the plant of new flowers, yet in a month you will have pinched back the whole plant.
You will keep the plant low, thick and lush. That, with our ideal growing conditions during the next few months, will make that plant bloom like crazy.
Because all the old or almost all the old flowers are removed, no seed is present and that plant will be prolific until hard freeze kills it.
With all that pinching and new growth, make sure you lightly cultivate the soil so water can penetrate it well through the dry hot months of summer. And give all your plants a nice shot of fertilizer right now.
They need energy to continue this forced, elongated blooming cycle that you are promoting.
Also, through the hose, spray with a good bloom and bud booster fertilizer.
Your plants need new nutrient, tilled soil and a little compost to keep growing.
If you pinch and deadhead flowers now, great uninterrupted blooms will follow for four more months.
Try to prove me wrong! But also remember … stay well all.
Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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, WA 98362, or email firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: Andrew May).