A GROWING CONCERN: Pinch and prune for exponential blooms

SUMMER BEGINS OFFICIALLY this coming Saturday at 2:44 p.m.

In an ironic twist, the daylight will start to decrease. But what is not decreasing is the growth rate of your plants.

In fact, only a mere six days and your flowers and plants are finally growing at a recognizable pace, hanging baskets are ablaze with color, roses are blooming and lavender is in bud — but let me focus on an all-important task.

Especially this year, having slogged through a long 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.

With these two methods you channel, through your fingers and pruners, both the longevity of blooms and the duration of flowering.

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

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

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

Leaflets are the foliage growing 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 comprised 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 is disease.

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

As the rotten pedals drop and fall off, these leaves become infected and soon the plant is a festering mess of disease.

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

The presence of shorter days and cooler night temperature with heavy 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 and not flower formation. And again, as autumn nears and the days of August get shorter and shorter with night temperatures drops, a 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 in order to do so.

Pinching and deadheading even adds more blooms to the mix. Every time a node is cut exactly above another node (leaf set), new branches then form where they would not have otherwise.

With more new branches come more new flowers.

Pinch these again when they have finished blooming and even more new branches will sprout new branches — it is exponential.

So invite the 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.

Take the opportunity to travel around our beautiful Peninsula, enjoy the flowers, forest and fauna — and of course, please 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 [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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