A GROWING CONCERN: Ode to the ‘dynamic duo’ of pinching, deadheading

NOW THAT SUMMER is almost officially here and your flowers and plants are finally growing at a recognizable pace, hanging baskets are ablaze with color, roses abloom and lavender in bud, let me focus on an all-important task.

Especially this year, having slogged through a long, cool spring, we all want to get the most out of our summer plants, pots and baskets.

And when I say get the most, I mean having these plants flourish well into October and November.

The essential trick to this accomplishment is the dynamic duo of the ornamental world: pinching and deadheading.

When these two methods channel through your fingers and pruners, both the longevity of blooms and the duration of flowering is greatly enhanced.

Deadheading is the process by which one removes, cuts off or severs dying flowers from the plant.

Deadheading is only the removal of the complete flower head, including the leaflets normally accompanying most flowers.

Pinching is the procedure that removes not only the flower head but cuts off at least one node. In flowering plants, this is at least the first set of “true leaves.”

Leaflets are the foliage growth near the flower head, which resembles leaves but are actually part of the flower.

Normally, they are noticeably smaller than the true leaves or, in the case of roses, not complete.

Rather than the five-leaf structure of a rose leaf, they are composed of only one, two or three such leaves.

The reason we pinch and deadhead flowers as soon as they start going bad is twofold.

First, there is disease.

Flowers deteriorate quickly, and being composed of soft, sensitive, succulent tissue, they rapidly rot away with botrytis and gray molds, thus infecting the bloom almost instantly.

As the rotten petals drop and fall on the foliage, these leaves become infested and soon the plants is a festering mess of disease.

As fall approaches and if gray mold is present, the plant is a goner.

The presence of shorter days and cooler night temperatures heavy with dew just fans the flames of this pestilence.

Second, all living things exist to reproduce.

Reproduce they must, so if old flower heads are present, then the plant turns its focus to seed production, not flower formation.

And again, as autumn nears and the days of August get shorter with night temperatures dropping, the plant starts to shut itself down in terms of growth in order to mature its seed heads in time.

Removal of flowers at the moment they start to fade — not waiting until they turn brown — really frustrates the plant, and it produces even more flowers in an attempt to reproduce.

So the more flowers you take off, the more buds the plant produces in an endless cycle until the cold frost of November finally kills it.

These poor plants have no choice because they are driven to procreate and will stay blooming for as long as possible to do so.

Pinching in combination with deadheading even adds more blooms to the mix.

Every time a node is cut off, exactly above another node (leaf set), new branches then form where they would not have otherwise.

With more branches with new flowers, pinch these again when they have finally finished blooming and even more branches will sprout off the already new branches. It is exponential.

So invite these superheroes of the flower world into your garden and be prepared for a cornucopia of blossoms, which here on the North Olympic Peninsula can last until Thanksgiving.

P.S. Don’t forget next Sunday is Father’s Day.


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, WA 98362, or email news@peninsula dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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