Pinch back annual containers, don't let drought bring you down

Green thumbs up

to pinching back annuals in containers and hanging baskets. Just whack 'em back. Need more detail? Read on!

Green thumbs down

to letting black thoughts get the better of you during a drought. There are always good sides: Less fungal disease, fewer weed seeds germinating, less mowing... If you switch your focus from what's awful to what's doing well despite the drought, doors open!

Two summers ago we created a garden of everything that was thriving despite the drought. What a joy that garden is now! Read all about it, including a list of the plants that qualified, in What's Coming Up 110.

Sure, deadheading's important and this site includes much deadheading how-to. But the time has come to give those annuals a good hard pinch!

Sure, deadheading's important and this site includes much deadheading how-to. But the time has come to give those annuals a good hard pinch!

 Jump over to What's Coming Up 148 
to brush up on deadheading...

As for pinching back:

We're not talking about a simple deadheading -- removal of spent flowers. We mean clipping back whole flowering stems, all or most of 'em on a plant.

Do it before the plants begin to look scraggly. This encourages dense new growth that

will produce more and bigger blooms while making those blossoms look better by virtue of a clean backdrop.

People tend to hesitate rather than do this good thing. They worry that the plant will die and/or they'll lose all the bloom.

 

But that'll kill it!

To address that first concern -- killing the plant -- it's pretty unlikely that a plant will die when it has been growing so well it's reached the overgrown state. Let's say your cut reduces it to just a few leaves. Think back! That's all it had to begin with just weeks ago. It's quite capable of repeating that performance. When the leaves you cut away are decrepit and/or infected, the
invigorating effect is even greater.

Right: Still concerned? You can do what we did to this Verbena: We cut half the stems back, deadheaded the others...
...and we'll cut those out next week.

(Inset: We stepped back in to add this
photo for a reassuring peek three
weeks into this basket's future.)

Reading the buds

About those flower buds: You may indeed sacrifice some flowers when you cut. Yet you'll net more and bigger flowers because the cut stimulates growth from lower on the plant where individual stems are sturdier and flowers bigger. However, our bet is that you aren't losing as many as you think.

People frequently mistake developing seed pods for flower buds. Take a close look at what you think are buds to determine what they truly are.

Sacrifice one or two pods/buds for this good cause. Slice them open to see if they contain moist, furled petals... or swelling seeds and drying capsules. Remove those seed pods -- the chemicals being produced by the burgeoning seed are a powerful influence on the plant. They say, "No need for more flower, this seed's set so we've completed our task!"

Right: That's a verbena seed pod, not a flower bud. It's taller every day but never shows color.

Below: Be honest, now -- is this edging lobelia attractive, with all its stretched-out few-flowered stems?
Next to the blooming flower, there is a moist, swelling bud. Everything between there and the base of the plant -- seed!

Related links

 

New life by deadheads

Chopping for roses

Child shall teach