One of those routine tasks that gardeners engage in during the summer is deadheading. No, I’m not talking about guillotines or anything as gruesome as that. Deadheading is simply the removal of the spent blossom from annuals and perennials for the purpose of preventing seed production. Since many plants are prolific in their reproductive habits, seeds dropping from these plants could eventually become a weed problem.
On the other hand, some folks intentionally leave a few of the dried blossoms in order to collect mature seeds from these plants a little later in summer. These seeds they’ll sow next spring. Actually, I do the same, that is, leave some of the spent flowers to produce seed, but I don’t collect the seeds. I simply let the seeds drop to the ground, where they’ll sprout new plants next year.
Most often, I do this for annuals that I intermingle with crops in the vegetable garden. All of those annuals are ones that attract pollinators to the garden and help ensure a good crop of cucumbers, squash, peppers, etc. Yes, they can become a bit weedy, but the benefits exceed the negatives. Among my favorite reseeding annuals are bachelor buttons, calendula, cosmos, flowering tobacco, nasturtiums, nigella and poppies.
Oh, and there is also dill, actually a biennial. It’s been many years since I sowed seeds of this herb. It reseeds itself and dill plants are now scattered throughout our vegetable garden every year and I haven’t had to lift a finger to plant them.
KEEPING BUSY IN THE GARDEN ...
Some may think that allowing plants to reseed is a tactic of a lazy gardener. Here are some activities to offset such claims:
- Apply a deer and rodent repellent if these critters are in the habit of dining on your vegetable and fruit plantings, as well as landscape plants.
- Pinch back the shoots of fall-blooming asters and mums one last time this weekend. After that, sit back and watch the plants grow into compact, bushy plants.
- Tie tall perennials and annuals to stakes to keep them upright.
- Water gardens early in the day to prevent stress — the plant’s stress, not yours — on these hot and breezy days. Waiting until plants are wilting before apply water is never a good idea. The second best time to water plants is in the evening, but apply water to the soil around the plants, not over the plants. Wetting the leaves may encourage the spread of certain foliar diseases. The frequency of watering depends on the type of plant. Annuals, typically shallow rooted, may need to be watered daily to prevent wilting. On the other hand, perennials have a deeper and more extensive root system. These may need to be watered only once per week, or not at all if Mother Nature provides at least a total of one-inch of rainfall per week. Newly planted materials, whether herbaceous or woody, should be monitored daily to be sure soils are moist. Having a layer of mulch around plants is helpful during hot and dry summer days as the mulch reduces soil moisture loss. Finally, there are container plantings. These will most likely need daily watering.
- Prune tomatoes. Whether growing in cages or trellised, I always remove all the leaves, side branches and suckers which arise below the first set of blossoms. For trellised tomatoes, I leave only one stem to grow. The tomatoes in cages are pruned to allow for 3 or 4 stems. Pruning the lower leaves facilitates the movement of air around the plant and helps reduce the incidence of disease such as early blight.
- Routinely hoe the weeds in the rows between vegetable plantings while the weeds are still small. My preferred hoe is called stirrup hoe or scuffle hoe. It gets its name from its likeness to the loop-shaped stirrup of a saddle. Both edges of the hoe are bladed. This allows for a forward and backward motion, and ultimately the best weed removal.
- Harvest culinary herbs just before their flowers open. They have their best flavor then. To harvest, cut stems with a sharp knife or scissors in the morning when the leaves are no longer wet with dew. Carefully wash the cut herbs, shake off excess water and then tie them in small bunches. Hang the bunches upside down in a dark, airy place. When dry, strip leaves from the stems, place the leaves in air-tight containers, and store away from strong light.
- Put bird netting over blueberry bushes. The fruit are now beginning to ripen. You may also want to put netting over raspberries.
- Mow June bearing strawberry plants once the harvest is over. Use a string trimmer, or a lawn mower set at a high cutting height if the strawberries were not growing on raised beds. Just be careful not to damage the plant crowns.
- Be sure mower blades are sharp. Otherwise, you’ll be shredding the tips of grass blades rather than cutting them cleanly. “So what?” you ask. Well, for one, a shredded grass blade loses more moisture than a clean cut blade. Given the heat of summer, that means increased evaporation of moisture from grass plants, decreased root development, and possibly death of the grass. Also, maintain a cutting height of at least 3 inches.