70719thumbFlowers have a bigger and better agenda than coloring our gardens and homes. They bloom to get pollinated. Their color and fragrance are designed merely to attract pollinators. Less vain but more abundant blooms take advantage of the wind to disperse their pollen. Once pollinated, flowers fade and deteriorate as resources get diverted to the production of seed and fruit to contain it.

Some flowers are on a tight schedule. They bloom in a single brief season. Others have a bloom season that last significantly longer than the individual flowers do. They might bloom continually for a few months, replacing fading older flowers with new flowers; or they might bloom in phases, with each phase blooming simultaneously, and then getting replaced with a subsequent phase.

Fruit trees and many fruiting vegetable plants bloom once annually, and then produce fruit. Tomato, summer squash and bean plants bloom and produce fruit continually. Tomato fruits are best if allowed to ripen on the vine. Beans and summer squash like zucchini are better if harvested while young and tender. Also, the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of premature fruit.

The priority of these plants is to produce seed. Production of seed requires significant resources. Plants that are busy producing seed within maturing beans and zucchini do not put much effort into producing subsequent bloom and fruit. However, if deprived of maturing seed and fruit, these sorts of plants are compelled to divert resources into new bloom, and seed and fruit production.

The same applies to many flowering plants, particularly perennials and flowering annuals. ‘Deadheading’ is the removal of deteriorating flowers to promote continued bloom. It is not practical for plants with profuse small flower, such as sweet alyssum and lobelia. Nor is it necessary for some sterile or nearly sterile plants that do not produce much seed anyway, like busy Lizzy (impatiens).

French marigold, petunia, zinnia, floss flower and cockscomb all bloom better if deadheaded. Rhododendrons do not benefit directly from deadheading, but look better without old floral trusses. Conversely, the potentially picturesque dead flowers of sea holly might be left intact.

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7 thoughts on “Flowers Are Only The Beginning

  1. My mother was an inveterate dead-header, and she had the most luscious petunias and marigolds in the neighborhood. She’d sneak out early in the morning to do her work so that her neighbors wouldn’t see her and learn her trick. They may already have known “her trick, ” of course, but it gave her satisfaction.

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    1. Part of the reason I dislike both petunias and marigolds is that I do not want to deadhead them. We have petunias at work, and they bloom adequately, but I know that they would bloom better and stay more compact if deadheaded.

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    1. They are not at least allowed to ripen first?! I mean, they could at least ‘fake’ that they were ripened on the vine, even if picked green and allowed to ripen on the way like other tomatoes.

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