Dear Master Gardener: I am a new gardener and I have heard the term “deadheading” in reference to my plants. This sounds ominous to me. Is it important to a successful garden or should I not worry about “deadheading” my plants?
Dear Concerned and Rightly So: Frankly, I didn’t expect to find a good definition of deadheading in the Master Gardener Manual, but there it was on page 444 under Deadheading. The explanation was a little wordy so I will try to put it in terms to which we can all relate. Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers. It improves the health and appearance of the plants. The plant naturally wants to produce seeds when the flower head dies. If you remove the dead heads, then the plant will produce another flower that contains more seeds. If you are an avid gardener, you will take this dandy dead head inside, crush it up, put it in an envelope and label it. Then you will have seeds for next year. Keep them in your vegetable crisper to keep them cool. Do not use a plastic bag as the seeds will develop mildew. The very best way to dead head is to pick the flowers while they are in bloom. Bring some inside, give some to friends and take some to shut-ins. When they die, save the dead flowers and the seed heads. That’s a win-win situation for a lot of people. The friends you take them to can also save the seeds. However, this is where that “long suffering” husband of mine comes into the picture. Be careful where you make your cut. I asked him to help me cut zinnias for church, and he cut below the upcoming new flowers. Be careful to leave the new buds on the plant.
Dear Master Gardener: My perennials are getting very thick. I have read that it is not good to allow them to grow too thick. When is the best time to divide these plants?
Dear Patience: You are absolutely right. Most perennials need to be divided periodically or they will decline. Perennials that become overcrowded will cease to produce flowers and eventually die. Divide your perennials when they are not blooming. Therefore, divide spring and summer blooming perennials in the fall, and early winter and fall blooming plants in the spring. Water the plant a day or two before dividing it. Use a trowel, shovel, or spading fork and dig about four inches away from the shoots. Lift the plant from the ground and shake or hose away the loose soil. Be sure to leave some in the hole. Plant the separated plants about the same depth they were already growing. Keep an eye on your plants and keep them watered until they settle in. A light mulch will hold the moisture in. Keep in mind there is a difference between moist and soggy. If you have extras, pass some along to your friends. Good luck.