Garden Looking Like Crap? One Simple Trick to Keep the Color Blooming

Megan Van Schaick

Deadheading flowers
A rudbeckia ready for deadheading.
You are drooping (and dripping) by this point in the summer -- and so’s your garden. Unless you’ve packed your beds with magical plants that thrive on tortuously hot days and no rain (they do exist, but how many of us want a 12-foot saguaro in our tulip bed?), it’s likely that your garden is begging for a little TLC right now. So give it up, baby, and get more of those gorgeous blooms in return.

The absolute, most important, number one thing -- if you do nothing else in your garden this summer, if you let the crab grass grow, if you don’t pick off the Japanese beetles -- do this: deadhead your flowers.

This has nothing to do with Jerry Garcia and everything to do with fooling your plants into blooming longer. Once a plant flowers and blooms, it thinks it’s done for the day: chores, check; sex, check; reproduction, check. And then it begins the process of putting itself to bed for the winter. But you can fool your plants into believing the sultry, sexy days of summer are here to stay -- and that they should, too.

Deadheading is easy: All you do it cut off the spent blooms. You can do this with just about any flowering plant or shrub in your garden: coral bells, rudbeckia, butterfly bush, hydrangea, lavender, petunias. By getting rid of the old blooms, your plants think they haven’t finished their reproductive cycle, so they put out new ones. I deadhead all summer long -- until the plants really decide they’ve had enough, which sometimes isn’t until first frost.

Some of my best tips:

  • With tall flowers, like daisies, don’t just trim the flower head -- move down the length of the stem and trim at either the base of the plant or a joint. For plants that put out clusters of blooms, like certain lilies, you can simply reach in and pinch off the individual wilted flowers.
  • You should also employ a similar (but slightly opposite) technique with your herbs. Just like other flowering plants, herbs quit producing once they’ve flowered. So the object here is not to let them flower. Keeping things trimmed and harvested along the way is obviously the best way to accomplish this, but should you see your basil send up a little spire with white blossoms, lop that sucker off. Keeping herbs like basil trimmed will also help them stay bushy, instead of bolting up into a leggy, spindly mess. Other herbs will also bloom, and you can trim them in the same way.

With this one trick, you can have productive plants all summer -- show your kids how to do it, and you won’t even have to lift a finger. (Though I hear a penny a bloom is the going rate these days….)


Image via Silver & Chalk/Megan Van Schaick

Read More