July 2, 2012

Sometimes less is more in gardening

By AMY IVY, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — I’ve been watching my flower gardens fill in this month, and I always enjoy the progression. 

As I mentioned last month, parts of some gardens had become a jungle. Since then, I’ve thinned and divided and weeded like crazy. In other sections, I like to plant annual flowers, so those areas start out rather bare in spring and fill in by midsummer. 

There’s always something going on out there, and I love to check on my gardens daily to see what’s new in bloom, what’s being chewed and what needs removing.

I have a lot of volunteer plants that need regular managing. These are the seeds of nice plants that dropped last year and are now popping up all over the place. Sometimes they show up in good spots and I leave them alone, but more often there are either way too many of them or they’re in the wrong place. Volunteers of plants that you don’t want in your garden go by another name: weeds.

Some of the first seedlings I put out in late May have been chewed and need replacing, so I like to keep some of those nice volunteers around as replacements or fillers. But I can’t leave them much longer or they’ll crowd each other out and none of them will thrive. So late June is when I try to make my final decisions. 

Some of my favorite volunteers include calendula, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), annual poppy, Echinacea, columbine and oxeye daisy.

For those of you without desirable volunteers, you can still find transplants at some garden centers to fill in your gaps, but as the weather turns hot, those transplants need to get into the ground.

Some of my volunteers have already bloomed, and I can pull them out to make room for the summer bloomers. I always leave a few volunteers to go to seed so I’ll have a good supply of volunteers back next spring. 

Some of the plants in my garden that are either ready to pull out, or will be ready in the next week or two, include Dame’s rocket, Johnny jump-up, oxeye daisy, forget-me-not, columbine and annual poppy.

And then there are the early blooming perennials that need dead-heading, which is the removal of spent flower heads. Since perennials usually bloom for only a couple of weeks, it’s their foliage that ends up being what you see during most of the season. 

By cutting perennials back after blooming, you can remove any faded leaves and encourage young, healthy leaves to grow. Most perennials do well with a light pruning after flowering to tidy them up, but some, including lupines, delphinium and centaurea (perennial bachelor button) do best when cut right to the ground. These will produce lush foliage to fill in and set off your other perennials for the rest of the summer. 

Once a perennial has bloomed, go ahead an experiment a bit with pruning it. The flower show is over for the summer so you really can’t go wrong. And chances are good it will end up looking a whole lot better.