The Q&A Archives: What to Do with Flowers Before The First Frost

Question: I planted flowers from seed for the first time this year outside in the yard. Before we get our first frost, should I cut my plants down? If so how far. I planted Marigolds,
Zinnias, Snapdragons, a mixture of annual cut flowers, Daisies, Alyssum, Vinca, old fashioned mixture, dianthus, portulaca, pansy, four o'clocks, and poppy.
I also planted 3 rose bushes.

Answer: Annuals are plants whose life cycle (vegetative growth, bloom, seed set) is completed in a single growing season. The plant dies at the end of the cycle and a new generation begins with seed germination. The plants you list by name are all annuals (check what was in the old fashioned mixture) so you'd pull them out completely rather than cut them back. I'd let them go to seed, perhaps self-seeding for next year, before pulling the spent plants. Or, you could collect seed to sow again next spring.

However, don?t save seed from hybrid plants, because when planted it will not mature identical to the parent plant. (A hybrid plant is produced by cross pollinating two different parent plants.) Hybrid plants are labeled as such on seed packets and in catalog descriptions.

Let some flowers dry and ?go to seed.? As seeds begin to turn brown and fall off, hold a paper bag or container underneath and tap dry seeds into it. Or, tie paper bags over the flowerheads to catch falling seeds. Punch a few holes in the bag to provide circulation. Another way is to wait until about 10 percent of the seeds are brown and falling off. Then cut the entire flowerhead and stem, place it upside down in a paper bag, hang it in a cool, dry location and let the seeds separate on their own.

Collect seeds on dry, sunny days to avoid any excess moisture. If needed, dry seeds completely on sheets of newspaper for a week or so. Dispose of stems and leaves. A screen or colander works well to remove chaff. Store seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.

Actually, you don't want to prune roses now, which will stimulate new tender growth that is susceptible to frost damage. Here's a description of what to do to prepare roses for winter. It's taken from "Roses for Dummies" written by Lance Walheim and the National Gardening Association.

Stop fertilizing 6 weeks before the first frost and let spent flowers go to seed rather than cutting them off. This encourages the plant to go into dormancy. Then,

1. Deep water after the first frost, but before the ground hardens.

2. When nights start being frosty on a regular basis, mound several shovels of soil over the base of the plant, at least a foot above the bud union. To make this easier, you can tie the canes together with a string.

3. When the ground is completely frozen, cover the mound with a foot layer of mulch, such as compost or leaves. Remove all leaves from the roses, which can harbor disease and increase drying out of the plant. Enclose the rose with a cyclinder of wire mesh and fill it with mulch or soil.

4. When the ground starts thawing in the spring, gradually start removing the covering. Don't remove all at once, let the plant acclimate.

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