Deadheading & Cutting Back in the Late Summer Garden

By Ellen Azotea

It’s the end of August, and we have been slogging through the dog days of summer this month. The heat and humidity have done a number on our gardens and container plantings, and it’s time to start tidying things up in preparation for autumn.  There is still color in the garden, so this is where deadheading and cutting back come into play. 

Deadheading is the removal of faded, browning or spent blossoms on a plant, whether annual or perennial.  Any plants you have that are still producing flowers and buds, such as echinacea, rudbeckia, and annual plantings, should be deadheaded to encourage continued color. Give those annual container plants a good shearing if they are looking leggy. Follow up with a watering with water-soluble fertilizer and you will see a positive difference in about a week!  

Perennials that are finished blooming for the season or that are suffering from powdery mildew (Monarda/Bee Balm and Garden Phlox) and any perennials that are looking ragged may be cut back. Cutting back means to cut the stems of the plant back to just above ground level.  Many perennials will show foliage at their base—cut stems an inch or two above that foliage. Don’t compost any material with powdery mildew as the spores can survive in your compost and be spread to other parts of the garden. 

Autumn is a good time to reflect on our gardens:  what worked and what didn’t? What needs to be divided or moved? What aggressive spreaders need to be reigned in or given the boot? The beauty of gardening is that next year brings a whole new opportunity for trying new things! Come wander the gardens at Kingwood Center for inspiration and advice from our friendly horticultural staff. See you in the gardens soon!  

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