Go on, trick your plants

When I was a kid, I thought deadheading referred to the fact that my friend could ride the train free because her dad worked for the railroad.

While deadheading may still apply to those who for one reason or another travel free, nowadays I immediately think of flowers when I hear the term.

Plants don't flower to please us and give us beauty. They want their fertilized blooms to turn into seeds, thus eventually reproducing themselves. This development of seeds takes a lot of energy.

Dead-heading, or the removal of spent flowers, is, in a way, tricking the plant. It makes the plant think that it failed to produce seeds, and it sends out growth hormones to produce more flowers to try again.

For gardeners, this means more flowers, of course, often referred to as "repeat blooming." Not only does deadheading improve the appearance of our plants, it removes hiding places for insects that may become pests and improves air circulation, thus helping to discourage fungal growth.

It is time to deadhead when flowers start to brown or wither. Tall flowers that sit atop long slender stems — tulips, daffodils or daisies, for example — should be cut at the base of the plant. Trim bushy plants with small flowers, such as candytuft, creeping phlox or ice plant, with hand shears or small hedge clippers. Trim the entire plant at once, even if there are a few nice flowers left, rather than trying to trim one flower at a time. That's too tedious. Do not remove more than one third of the plant in this process, however.

Deadhead day lilies, peonies and so on by snapping or pinching off flowers with your hand. If the flower does not snap off easily, use a sharp knife, small clipper or scissors. Plants that produce clusters of blooms, such as old-fashioned roses, should have the entire spent cluster removed all at once.

Tea rose growers, on the other hand, have many opinions on how to trim back spent blooms. In general, you will promote re-bloom most readily by cutting the flower stem back to a leaf with five, not three, leaflets. This will also promote a larger bloom, because the stem you cut will be larger.

Deadheading is used on annuals and perennials. If you can stop the plant from putting its energy into producing seeds (unless that is your goal), it will put out a second flush of blooms sooner than if you delay the process or do nothing.

Coming up: John Jacob of Southern Oregon Beekeepers will teach a class on Bees and Plants That Attract Them from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Bees are beneficial to us, and John's presentation will address how gardeners can help them. Along with planting strategies to attract them, he will cover bee and pollinator basics. The class will be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, in Central Point. The cost is $5.

Call 541-776-7371 for information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.

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