A GROWING CONCERN: The crazy cutback that isn’t so crazy


If any of you thought I was perhaps losing my mind a couple of weeks ago when I strongly suggested it would be a fabulous and well-advised endeavor to plant a vegetable garden in early July, then today, in light of our unseasonably cool and drizzly weather lately, you will think I have totally gone bonkers.

At first glance, one could understand that snap judgment, for today I am telling you to cut away much of the color in your various container gardens.

That’s right, you read that correctly.

Cut away many of your blooms on plants in your containers (baskets, pots, window boxes, planters and raised beds) along with large leaves and most, if not all, plant tips.

By why would you do such a strange and destructive thing?

The reason is simple and the answer is quite extraordinary — by doing so, your summer flowers will look marvelous until November.

Better than today — guaranteed.

But only if you pay attention closely and follow the advice laid out in today’s column. Not doing so will result in the inevitable pattern of the August collapse.

But enough of the hyperbole.

All living things exist to reproduce and your plant containers, flower beds and gardens are primarily made up of flowers that are prolific in summer months.

These plants, your flowers, by now have produced numerous blooms along with a thick and old foliage base.

The sunlight also is beginning to get noticeably shorter around your yard as we lose minutes of daylight each day, to which your flowers have evolved a response.

The natural response of your blooming plants to these emerging conditions is to finish off the seed heads while the weather is still good, then die.

That’s because, like salmon, its job here is done.

They wither and rot away into fertile nutrients that will foster next year’s seedlings.

Peninsula perks

Fortunately for us here on the Olympic Peninsula, our weather is great, mild and extremely forgiving of plants everywhere that are universally stupid and cannot read the calendar.

By removing the flowers on most annual plants along with striping away the majority of old leaves, and all dead and dying yellow leaves, the plant’s strong evolutionary drive to procreate — coupled with 70 to 90 days of frost-free and mild weather — will make sure it flourishes for months to come, well into autumn.

So not to commit to flower genocide is to have your flowers slowly crash by giving in to the natural cycle of germinate, grow, bloom, go to seed and die in August or September.

To trim away flowers, cut away old leaves and thus rejuvenate the plant will force it into an additional bloom cycle that lasts until heavy frost.

Increase quantity

More importantly, when removing old flower heads make sure you tip your plants, which means to take off at least one full set or more of leaves.

This pinch will cause your plants to break at the point of the pinch, which results in two, three, four or more new branches to grow, and each new branch will flower anew.

Also, two other factors are mandatory: You must do this in the next three to four days. No later.

You have to add new fertilizer and scratch up the surface, or better yet, add an inch or two of new soil atop the fertilizer. You will be surprised that there is now room to do so.

Then water, water, water well for a few days and be prepared to be bedazzled come fall.

As a similar gesture, if you have fuchsias, tip them and remove all those dark purple-black seeds heads and add soil and fertilizer for a renewed basket as well.

Now get ready, brace yourself and go butcher — oops, lovingly prune, deadhead, leaf strip, cultivate, fertilize and water — your most cherished flower planters and beds.

Then take and send me your gorgeous photos by Sep. 30.


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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