Did you realize you can get more flowers by cutting your plants off before they bloom, or sometimes, after they bloom, or even while they are blooming? It all comes down to knowing the plant and its habits. These are things that the plant tag and the nurseries don’t generally explain to you when you shop.

It’s hard to find information on how to keep a particular plant looking as beautiful as they show you in the picture. The fact is that you can’t usually buy a plant and expect it to grow exactly as you had hoped without some intervention. You need to experiment with “Pre-bloom shearing”, “Post bloom shearing” and “Deadheading”.

Pre-Bloom Shearing

Some plants grow fairly tall, then they bloom, then they flop. You can often correct this problem with a little ”Pre-bloom shearing”, or, as some people call it, the “Chelsea Chop”. For instance, Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ is a great little native plant whose clump expands slowly over time. It starts out with a nice, low feathery foliage, and then, slowly gets taller and produces a small yellow flower that will continue to bloom for quite a long time. The problem is, if you leave it alone, the stems will flop over as it blooms revealing brown stems which are very unsightly. So what to do? The answer is “Pre-Bloom Shear”! You can do this in five minutes with your hedge shearers. Just shear that foliage in half before the inner stems turn brown. It will slow down the bloom for a week or two, but when it does bloom, it will be fuller and it will not flop! This method also works with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ which is famous for flopping, and, of course, perennial Mums and Asters. In short, if you have a plant that tends to flop, try cutting it in half before it starts to set buds and you just might be very happy with the results!

Post-Bloom Shearing

Some early spring bloomers will look absolutely beautiful through May and June giving you an early flush of flowers, then become leggy with some continued, but very weak flowering. If you leave them alone, they will look sickly for the rest of the summer. Cut them off by half to two-thirds just after most of the flowering is done. I am thinking of Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, and especially perennial Sages. Rein these beauties in, and they will give you many more attractive blooms, probably lasting into fall.

Other candidates for post-bloom shearing are repeat-bloom daylilies. These will have lovely flowers early, then dead looking stapes and leaves for the rest of the season. If you carefully examine the plant, you will see that under all those dead leaves is a whole, new little plant. If you take the time to yank out all the brown dead stuff, you will have a fresh plant, and another round of beauty and blooms. Too much trouble? Use the hedge shearers and cut the plant right down to the ground. It will come back fresh and new to bloom again! You can do the same with regular Day Lilies. After blooming, their foliage can become unsightly. Shear them off, and new, fresh leaves will appear. Unless they are ever-blooming, they won’t bloom again, but they will look healthy and attractive instead of sad and ugly.

I also use “Post Bloom Shearing” with early blooming Clematis. Once the main flush of blooms have finished, I shear them off close to the ground, and by late summer, I have a whole new plant and a fresh round of blooms. There are hundreds of varieties of Clematis plants which are divided into three different pruning categories so I don’t guarantee this will work with all. If it doesn’t work, the worst that can happen is that you don’t get the second round of blooms. In my opinion, it’s worth the try.

Deadheading

Plants are geared toward producing seed in order to reproduce. Removing the spent flower (deadheading) before the seed head can form will keep the plant producing more flowers. If you have grown common annuals like petunias and marigolds, then you are probably familiar with deadheading. Sometimes deadheading annuals can be time-consuming, but it is well worth it. Sometimes you can pinch the flower off with your fingers. Other plants are tougher, and require snippers for a clean cut. (See picture)

Some native perennials such as Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans produce seed heads on sturdy stems which we are advised to let stand so that songbirds can eat them throughout the winter. However, during the summer, as these flowers fade, if you cut some of the stems back to a bud, the plant will often produce new blooms. Another method is to cut some of the stems back BEFORE they bloom. This will delay their bloom so that when the untouched flowers finish, the trimmed ones will just be coming on.

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) is a native perennial that will bloom from late spring through fall IF you keep it deadheaded.

There are endless varieties of flowering plants. You almost have to experiment for yourself to determine what gives the best results. Just remember that you can’t hurt a perennial by cutting it. If you don’t like the way it looks, or if it is diseased, CUT IT OFF. It will come back.

Barb Mrgich is a Penn State Master Gardener from Adams County. Penn State Cooperative Extension of Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, phone 717-334-6271.

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