In the Garden:
The more bouquets you cut, the more flowers you'll get next year. It's a win-win situation!
Pruning for More Flowers
May is lilac-appreciation time in New England. It seems like no matter what office, store, or home you walk into, the unmistakable fragrance of lilacs fills the air. While the heart-shaped foliage is attractive all summer, let's face it, we grow lilacs for the flowers. So as soon as the flowers open, it's time to get busy on next year's display.
While you might not think about it at the time, every time you cut lilacs for your table, you're actually pruning the plant. Removing a portion of a branch encourages the node below to produce two new shoots that have the potential of flowering next year.
After the shrub finishes blooming, you can greatly increase the number of future flowers with more severe pruning. Since next year's buds are formed this summer, the sooner you prune after flowering, the better so you don't inadvertently remove developing buds. Remove faded flowering stems and cut back as many of the branches as you can. Make your cuts just above a node, where the leaves are attached.
Lilacs grow so fast that before you know it, the flowers are way out of reach. Routine pruning every year can keep them at nose level. If your plant has grown way out of bounds, a dormant-season pruning can help. In late winter cut the entire plant back to a foot or two from the ground, or cut a third of the stems to the ground every year for three years. Keep in mind that you'll be forfeiting flowers.
You can improve the flowering of other plants that bloom on year-old wood, such as Peegee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), by pruning in a similar way. For plants that bloom on new wood, such as weigela and forsythia, cut up to one third of the stems to the ground after flowering. This will encourage new blooming shoots. Rhododendrons and azaleas should be pinched right after flowering. Remove the flower clusters carefully because new buds lie just beneath them.
Encouraging More Blooms Now
While shrub pruning is an exercise in delayed gratification, you can "supersize" the flower show of many perennials and annuals this season by pinching and deadheading. I pinch my perennial asters, phlox, and mums once or twice in the spring and early summer to encourage fuller growth and more buds. This bit of pruning also reduces their height so the asters don't topple as easily when loaded with flowers in early fall. You also can prolong the flowering of these plants by pinching some plants and not pinching others. The non-pinched plants will bloom first.
It's a good idea to pinch many annuals, such as pansies, snapdragons, zinnias, impatiens, and salvia, early in the season and again whenever they start getting leggy. Then, whenever the flowers fade, be sure to remove them, or "deadhead" the plants. Deadheading is the single, most important method of coaxing your plants into producing more flowers. Remove the flower stem just above a node or bud.
Pinching... deadheading... I wonder if more people would use these techniques if they didn't have such painful-sounding names!
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