8/6/17: How To Be Your Garden’s ‘Alpha'

There are lots of ways to keep a garden up and running from mid-to-late summer right into late autumn. All one needs is knowledge, some time, decent vision, a long thumbnail (or a pair of scissors), and maybe a baseball cap or Tee shirt that reads’ ‘Garden Boss,’ to remind every flower growing out there just who runs the show. 

A visitor came upon one of my fat perennial geranium clumps. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s still blooming! Mine finished three weeks ago!” She looked wistfully at the lush blue beauties, then at me, baffled. 

“Well, if you look at it from the plant’s point of view,” I said with a smile, “you gave it permission to shut down and settle into a nice long rest after the first flush.” 
“I did?” 

And so I explained. 

“My perennial geranium (or cranesbill) likes to bloom in mid-July; its display is such a rich blue, isn’t it? But if the gardener doesn’t remove the many spent blooms it produces every day, they’ll quickly form slim, inch-long seeds; satisfied, the plant will settle down to sleep again for 10 months. 
Don’t allow this behavior - yet. 
To prevent ‘early retirement,’ pinch off every finished bloom every morning, or, if necessary, remove an entire stem containing a cluster of ‘gone girls.’  It’ll take maybe one minute. 
The geranium nervously notes what’s happening, and frets that its long, pale seeds can’t form. 
A few days later, in a rising panic, it’ll form new fat buds in response to its minder’s persistent amputations. Soon, more lush, attractive flowers are born." 

“Now, don’t get complacent.  Keep pinching off the elderly flowers (including those of other perennials, like salvia and veronica) every day. Upset, the plants will produce more fat new buds, which bloom again and again (assuming it’s fed and watered). 
They’re programmed to insure another season, after all. Seeds MUST form, so they’ll continue to try to comply. Don’t allow it. 
Trim big long-stemmed Alaskan beauties, too. They often form miniscule buds about half way down the thick stem. (Daisies are smart. If the current fat bloom is eaten, or broken, it likes to keep another in the wings.)  Flower-nutty bosses always want more daisies, and so they gaze down, down the long, sturdy stem hunting for a tiny extra leaf- THERE. 
Ha! A rebloom is likely! Remove the old flower just above that place. Eventually, another perfect- though much shorter- daisy will delight you. 
Note: not every dead flower’s stem will have an ‘indicator.’ So, cut that stem right down to the plant’s basal leaves. 
I even amputate finished flowers of my favorite pink, white and green flowered spirea shiborii. When parts of a clump fade I snip them gone. Right behind that amputation, nodes have already formed new buds. Hooray!" 

"Then, on September first, everything changes. The tired cranesbill, salvia, veronica, daisy etc. wait for ‘the chop’ that morning, as usual... but nothing happens. More cool days pass. They gradually relax, set seed, power down to settle into a sleepy autumn, and finally, into dormancy. 
I, this garden’s ‘Alpha,’ or Boss, am in charge." 

"A good boss is also reasonable. My ‘stop amputating’ date, September first, allows cherished perennial plants at least two months to move gently into dormancy.” 

"Take out old blooms and their stems daily with annual geraniums too, But do this right up to freezing weather.  Another lovely stalk, groaning with bursting buds, is always waiting mere inches from the ‘done’ stalk. Overnight those fresh buds will open and shine for a good while, then fade; another plump stalk springs up, and another, and another, until November’s icy weather, finally kills it.  Amazing! 
You get such color for such a long time! 
Ditto for marigolds. Every day, pinch away each dead bloom. Bingo! More perfect marigolds form. Right into the first snow. 
Snip away the delicate annual feverfew’s withered daisies, too; if necessary, take a whole little branch of those pale brown, spent flowers. The annoyed plant will continue to vigorously regrow bright, perfect daisies in response. These tiny beauties stay splendid well into late fall, when they all finally wither. BUT. They cheerfully reestablish wherever they please, every spring!" 

She shook her head. “Well! I never realized!” 

Sadly, many inexperienced gardeners I meet do tend to think that when a flower’s done, it’s finished ‘til next season.... 
But- it ain’t necessarily so.

Leave a comment

    Add comment