Deadhead Spring Bulbs After Bloom

Most spring bulbs are done blooming.

Fruiting warm season vegetables that are now in season, such as squash, tomatoes and beans, are more abundant with regular harvest. Plants that produce such fruit respond to their natural obligation to generate seed. Deprivation of the fruit that contains their seed stimulates production of more. Similarly, it is helpful to deadhead some flowering plants.

Deadhead grooming is a type of pruning, even if it does not involve pruning shears. It is, in simple terms, the removal of deteriorating flowers after bloom. For some plants, it only improves aesthetic appeal. For many others, it redirects resources from seed production into subsequent bloom, or vegetative growth that eventually sustains subsequent bloom. 

Now that early spring bulbs are finishing bloom, it is time to deadhead them. Most bloom just once annually, so without the distraction of seed production, will prioritize vegetative growth into new bulbs to bloom for next year. Many of the summer bulbs that bloom later bloom more than once annually, so divert conserved resources into subsequent blooms.

However, many cultivars of spring bulbs are too extensively hybridized to produce viable seed. For them, deadhead grooming merely eliminates unappealingly deteriorated floral carcasses, while their foliage continues to sustain the development of new bulbs for next year. The foliage of most deteriorates slowly through warming spring or summer weather. 

Some extensively hybridized modern cultivars are not sterile though. Some can produce feral progeny that are less appealing than the hybrid parents, but are vigorous enough to displace them. Deadhead grooming eliminates most or all of the unwanted feral seed. Of course, for wild grape hyacinth and snowdrop, seed can be left to develop and disperse.

Established colonies of feral freesias can be allowed to make seed for more of the same. However, hybrid freesia benefits from deadhead grooming to eliminate feral seed. Dutch iris, narcissus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and lily can also benefit from deadhead grooming, for a variety of reasons. Some are sterile. Some are not. Some get shabby. Some do not.

Many Perennials Want Seasonal Grooming

Where frost is not a major concern, old canna foliage can be cut back as new growth develops.

Here on the west coast, autumn and winter weather is so mild that the native coral bells are already starting to develop new foliage on top of the old foliage from this last year. Technically, they are evergreen, so the old foliage does not need to be shed; but if it is not too much to ask, some types look better with a bit of grooming.

Other perennial plants that are from climates with stronger seasons and colder winters are not quite so evergreen. Many shed all of their foliage and are completely bare for at least part of the winter. Only a few, like cyclamen, are at their best through autumn and winter.

Dried watsonia foliage should be removed now if it has not been removed already. It is not so easy to pluck off like gladiola foliage is, so it should be cut off with shears. Because new foliage for next year develops before the old foliage of this past year is completely brown, it is often necessary to cut the old a few inches above the ground in order to avoid damaging the new.

The so called ‘evergreen’ daylilies can be even messier. New foliage is rather delicate, so it is easily tattered by the removal of old foliage. The ‘deciduous’ types may seem to be less appealing because they are bare for part of autumn and winter, but are so much easier to groom by simply removing all of the deteriorating old foliage as soon as it separates easily from the roots.

Deteriorating flowers can be removed from cannas; but their lush foliage can stay until it starts to deteriorate later in winter. Even if it survives winter, it should eventually be cut to the ground as it gets replaced by new growth in spring.

The many different iris have many different personalities. Most should be groomed sometime between summer and late autumn, although Dutch iris were groomed much earlier. Bearded iris that do not get divided can be groomed simply by plucking off big old leaves to expose smaller new shoots below.

Some dahlias bloom until they get frosted. Most though, are already finished. They do not need to be cut back all at once, but can be cut back in phases as leaves and stems dry and turn brown.

Six on Saturday: Naked Ladies And Neighbors

Naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, is common beyond the landscapes here. Most live on roadsides, likely because that is where we relocate superfluous bulbs, and toss seed after deadheading. All the flowers of a big colony outside the gates at our industrial yard got harvested as they came into bloom this year! Another colony at the historic depot blooms most spectacularly, and was just deadheaded after I got these pictures. Since they were finished with bloom, and still lack foliage, there was not much to get six pictures of. That is why I got two pictures of their neighbors with a third picture of where former neighbors had been.

1. Sarcococca ruscifolia, which does not do well elsewhere, became an exemplary foundation hedge here on the historic depot. Why is it all gone now? A sewer to a septic system was replaced.

2. Echinacea purpurea continues to bloom on the front of the same historic depot. It is prettier than that recently exposed mud between the foundation and the driveway on the opposite side.

3. Amaryllis belladonna continues to bloom, sort of. The majority finished bloom a while ago. Their many bare stems are visible in the background. A few small colonies bloom distinctly later.

4. Amaryllis belladonna otherwise looks like this now. The stems that finished blooming are slightly taller than those that continue to bloom slightly later. Seed will get tossed on the roadside.

5. Amaryllis belladonna that bloom later have pale brownish stems. The five pale brownish stems in the foreground here continue to bloom. The greener stems in the background are finished.

6. Hydrangea macrophylla is unusually happy in front of the historic depot. This floral truss is about a foot wide. There would be more like this, but deer ate them and the roses before bloom.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Summer Annuals Are Grateful For Deadheading

Blooming through summer is serious work.

So many of the pretty warm season annuals planted last spring are now at their best. Sweet alyssum, lobelia, verbena, moss rose and busy Lizzy never stop blooming, and only get more colorful as they grow through the season until they get replaced by cool season annuals in autumn. (It is unfortunate that busy Lizzy, which had been a standard warm season annual for so many years has become less available due to disease.) However, French marigold, petunia, floss flower, cosmos, statice, pincushion flower (scabbiosa) and zinnia need a bit of attention to perform as well that long.

These few warm season annuals can get tired of blooming if not ‘deadheaded’ (groomed of deteriorating flowers). Deadheading not only keeps plants looking a bit neater, but also prevents the diversion of resources needed for continued bloom into the generation of seed. As far as these blooming plants are concerned, seeding for the next generation is their priority anyway. As long as they are not allowed to set seed, they will continue to try, by producing more flowers to replace those that fade and get removed without setting seed.

Cosmos, statice and pincushion flower can continue to perform adequately without deadheading. The main advantage of deadheading these annuals is the removal of fading flowers. (There probably will not be much left for cosmos.) Many people actually prefer to leave fading cosmos flowers to disperse their seed for the following year.

Petunia is perhaps one of the more demanding of warm season annuals. It often needs to be clipped back in the middle of the season, right when it is expected to bloom the most. The best way to avoid serious pruning at one time it to keep plants snipped back lightly but continually as they grow, so that they can not develop the awkwardly long and weirdly jointed stems that eventually stop blooming. Short stems that stay close to the roots are the healthiest and most productive.

The various types of cockscomb are odd warm season annuals that become available halfway through summer, just in time to add color if some of the annuals planted earlier in spring are not performing adequately, or are finishing early. Of course, all of the other warm season annuals will still be available in nurseries until it is time for cool season annuals next autumn.

Deadhead To Promote Continued Bloom

Alyssum is too profuse for deadheading.

Deadheading is simply the removal of deteriorating bloom prior to the maturation of seed or fruiting structures. Besides diverting resources, it removes unappealingly deteriorated bloom, as well as unwanted or potentially invasive seed. Deadheading can be delayed if seed from particular flowers is desirable, (although some types are genetically variable).

It was time to deadhead spring bulbs as they finished bloom earlier last spring. Now it is time to deadhead some of the summer bulbs. It eliminates unsightly faded floral stalks of gladiolus, and diverts resources into developing bulbs. It eradicates invasive montbretia seed. For canna, it conserves resources to enhance subsequent bloom through summer. 

It is helpful to deadhead some types of annual bedding plants too. Marigold, zinnia, floss flower, pincushion flower and petunia should bloom better with systematic deadheading. Of course, all will continue to bloom without deadheading, but might be slightly subdued, with fading flowers. Modern sterile varieties that produce no viable seed are less reliant.

Fortunately, there is no need to deadhead alyssum, lobelia, nasturtium, moss rose, busy Lizzie or verbena. Their bloom is so abundant that it constantly overwhelms older bloom. Grooming tiny alyssum and lobelia flowers would otherwise be incredibly tedious. Moss rose, alyssum and nasturtium are pleased to self sow, but revert to simpler feral varieties. 

Some branched types of sunflowers produce several blooms on several separate stems. Others bloom with only a single flower on top of a tall single stem. If deadheaded prior to the maturation of their seed, the stalks of some single sunflowers generate a few smaller axillary flowers by autumn. This technique inhibits seed production, but prolongs bloom.

Deadheading Spring Bulbs Conserves Resources

What happens when daffodils finish blooming?

Now that the various spring bulbs have finished blooming, or will soon, many will benefit from deadheading. The techniques are simple, and actually benefit many plants besides spring bulbs. In the most basic terms, deadheading is merely the removal of deteriorating flowers after bloom. Ideally, it should happen prior to the development of seed structures.

A most obvious advantage of deadheading is that it eliminates unappealing carcasses of finished flowers. This neatens the appearance of remaining foliage. The foliage of some spring bulbs shrivels soon after bloom, but remains intact through the process, to sustain development of new bulbs. It is easier to ignore without prominently shabby floral stalks.

Deadheading also conserves and redirects resources that would otherwise sustain seed production. Such resources can instead promote vegetative growth, including production of new bulbs to replace the old. Furthermore, depriving bulbs of seed provides an added incentive for vegetative regeneration. If unable to survive by one means, they try another.

Some bulbs are more reliant on deadheading than others. Grape hyacinth and snowdrop are too profuse with bloom for minor seed production to inhibit their performance. In fact, they produce viable and genetically stable seed, which could be an advantage if more of the same are desirable. Although seed production is limited, seed disperses extensively.

Dutch crocus are an example of sterile hybrids that are unable to produce viable seed, or waste associated resources on such efforts. Other extensively bred bulbs that are not so sterile may not be true to type. Consequently, their progeny are likely to be very different. Freesia do not require deadheading, but can produce feral seedlings with insipid bloom.

Lily, narcissus, daffodil, tulip and hyacinth are some of the popular spring bulbs that now are ready for deadheading. Summer bulbs and perennials will get their turn later. Canna, dahlia and perennials that continue to bloom through summer will be tidier, and perhaps bloom more abundantly with efficient deadheading. They need not wait until next year to express their gratitude.

Collecting Seed For Another Season

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From one year to the next.

Seed that is available in hardware stores and nurseries came from somewhere. Plants just like those that such seed grows into produced it. Someone, or many someones, collected all that seed to make it available to others. Similarly, several plants in our own gardens produce seed. Anyone who is interested in collecting seed to grow more of the same plants could make good use of it.

After bloom, most flowers deteriorate and disappear into the landscape. Some leave behind desirable developing fruits or vegetables. Many of the flashiest flowers are too extensively hybridized to produce seed. Many produce some sort of seed structure that typically gets removed, or ‘deadheaded’. This diverts resources from seed production to subsequent bloom or vegetative growth.

If not removed, such seed structures can mature to produce viable seed. Those who enjoy collecting seed often intentionally leave a few seed structures for that purpose, instead of deadheading completely. For plants with long bloom seasons, this technique should involve the latest blooms. The same applies to vegetables that normally do not mature prior to harvest, like summer squash.

Such seed or fruiting structures, including vegetables, must be completely mature before collecting ripened seed from them.

Sunflower, cosmos, calendula, marigold, campion, morning glory, columbine, hollyhock and snapdragon are some of the easiest flowers for collecting seed from. California poppy, alyssum, phlox, and several other annuals are happy to self sow their seed, although collecting seed from them is not so easy. Nasturtium and honesty (money plant) seed is easy to collect, but self sows as well.

Collecting seed is limited only by practicality. Some plants, particularly hybrids and exotics (which are not native and may lack pollinators), produce no viable seed. Extensively bred varieties are likely to produce progeny that are more similar to the basic species than the parent. Once collected, some seed need special treatment in order to germinate. All seed should be sown in season.

Deadhead To Eliminate Fading Bloom

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Deadhead finished daffodils to conserve resources.

The need to deadhead so early in spring is one of the few minor consequences of spring bulbs. Long before it becomes necessary to deadhead zinnia, canna and rose, the first flowers to bloom as winter ends are already finished. Many are those of spring bulbs. Their lingering deteriorating bloom can be slightly unappealing. What is more of a concern, is that some will likely try to go to seed.

The process of producing unwanted seed consumes resources that could otherwise sustain more useful growth. However, for spring bulbs that have finished blooming, production of seed for a new generation is more important than their own survival. That is why it is helpful to deadhead bulbs and many other plants after bloom. If deprived of seed production, they divert resources elsewhere.

Deadheaded narcissus, daffodil, freesia, lily and tulip store more resources into new bulbs, which they generate to bloom next year. Snowdrop and grape hyacinth cultivars that get deadheaded are not likely to get overwhelmed by their own feral seedlings. (It is neither practical nor necessary to deadhead crocus or big naturalized colonies of snowflake, feral snowdrop or feral grape hyacinth.)

While it is important to deadhead most spring bulbs after bloom, it is also important to not remove deteriorating foliage prematurely. After all, the foliage produces the resources that are necessary to generate healthy new bulbs for next year. Such foliage starts to slowly deteriorate immediately after bloom, but may linger for many months. Bulbs will shed their foliage when they no longer need it.

Until then, bedding plants or low perennials can obscure deteriorating bulb foliage as it falls over. Trailing gazania and dwarf periwinkle work nicely for shorter bulbs. If they get shorn low for winter, trailing plumbago, common periwinkle and African daisy can work nicely for taller bulbs.

Six on Saturday: Out Of Africa

 

Lily-of-the-Nile was the first perennial that I divided and propagated on a substantial scale. Back when I was in the seventh grade, I was instructed to remove an overgrown specimen that was nearly a quarter of a century old. It was too tough, big and heavy to dig up intact, but relatively easy to dismantle and remove in smaller pieces. These smaller pieces were all too easy to split into individual rhizomes with single terminal shoots. These individual rhizomes were easily groomed and planted where I thought copies of the same lily-of-the-Nile would be nice. A few years later, these copies were big enough to be dug and divided into even more copies. Nearly four decades later, I am still growing a few copies.

Because it is so resilient and undemanding, lily-of-the-Nile is one of the most common perennials here. They bloom through summer, with their firework shaped blooms at their best in time or the Fourth of July. Now that they are finishing their long bloom season, the deteriorating flowers must be removed, by ‘deadheading’.

1. Lily-of-the-Nile, although common, really is a delightful perennial. I thought I was getting a good representative picture here, but can now see that the two lower blooms in the foreground are fasciated, so are more billowy than typical blooms are. Also, the sunlight at about noon was a bit too harsh for a good picture of the foliage.P90817

2. This very late blooming floral truss is how all the other blooms started out.P90817+

3. This one shows how they look at full bloom. It is only beginning to deteriorate.P90817++

4. As individual florets fall away, these maturing green seed capsuled remain. They slowly dry and turn tan before tossing their seed late in autumn or winter. Of course, they should get pruned out before they do so.P90817+++

5. Lily-of-the-Nile are very easy to work with, but snotty with this goo that flows from all cut floral stems and any damaged leaves. Ick!P90817++++

6. This is the pile of deadheaded bloom that got cut on Wednesday. More will be cut next Wednesday. Almost all typically finish within two weeks or so. However, they started a bit late this year, and are finishing more randomly than they normally do.P90817+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Save Some Seed For Later

90717thumbFlowers do not last forever. Whether they last for only a day, or weeks, they all eventually finish what they were designed to do, and then whither and deteriorate. They only need to stay fresh and appealing to pollinators long enough to get pollinated. After all, that is their only job. The next priority is the development of seed and any associated fruit structures that contain the maturing seed.

After bloom, most flowers are just ignored as they deteriorate and fall. Those in big shrubbery, vines and trees are out of reach anyway. Others are either too numerous or too insignificant to worry about. Of course, fruit and fruiting vegetable plants get to produce the fruits that they are grown to produce. Then there are few flowers that need to be ‘deadheaded’ after they are done blooming.

Deadheading is simply the removal of deteriorating flowers. The remains of sterile flowers might be deadheaded because they are unappealing. Deteriorating flowers that would like to produce undesirable seed or fruit after pollination might get deadheaded for the same reason, and to conserve resources that would otherwise be consumed by the developing seed and associated fruit.

However, there are a few flowers that might be left intentionally to provide seed for later. Different flowers finish at different times, and their seed gets sown in particular seasons, but most of those allowed to produce seed should probably be deadheaded through most of their season, with the last few blooms left to go to seed. The same applies to fruiting vegetable plants like pole beans.

Many flowering plants are genetically stable enough to produce progeny that will bloom mostly like the parents. Most are likely to be more variable, or revert to a more genetically stable form, even if it takes a few generations. Sunflower, cosmos, marigold, calendula, morning glory, columbine, snapdragon, campion and hollyhock are all worth trying.

California poppy, alyssum, nasturtium, money plant (honesty) and a few annuals that do not get deadheaded are often happy to sow their own seed.