It’s summer and one of the best things you can do to keep your perennial gardens looking well-groomed all summer is to prune the plants regularly. Pruning can mean anything from deadheading, which is removing the spent flower heads, to cutting plants all the way down to the ground. Pruning can do many things including extending the bloom period or promoting rebloom, encouraging lush new growth, reducing plant height, keeping plants in their own space, and staggering plant heights and bloom times.
I think the single most important type of pruning we can do is to deadhead spent flowers. This often extends the bloom period of the plant by encouraging growth of additional flower buds. How far below the spent flower you prune depends upon the growth habit of the plant. Look on the stem below the spent flower and see if there are any new flower buds forming. If there are, prune to just above the first flower bud below the dead flower. This works well for Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), Lucanthemum (Shasta Daisy), Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) and Monarda (Bee Balm). When you see no more flower buds on a stem on these plants, cut the stem to the ground. This will promote lush new growth at the base of the plant. Although you will probably have no additional flowers for the season, you will have attractive foliage. One more word about Black-eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers – their seed heads attract birds. If you are interested in feeding the birds, leave some of the spent flowers on the plant at the end of the bloom period.
The second consideration during these dry months is watering. Deep soaking is the goal. The most ideal and water-conserving method is one that provides a slow, steady trickle of water. Soaker hoses or irrigation systems set on a very slow setting fill this need. By watering in this manner you achieve several important objectives; the water you use does not run off the soil but instead reaches the roots below, making your plant stronger in the long run; the water that reaches the roots helps the plant to conserve the nutrients it needs to grow and develop; and by conserving the plant’s nutrients, it becomes stronger over time and more drought-tolerable.
Over-watering: One final word on the subject of watering is the caution not to overdo the thing! Believe it or not, over-watering is as detrimental to your plant’s health as under-watering! It encourages stunted plants, root rot, and fungal diseases. Over-watering also tends to leach nutrients and lime out of the soul, causing poor growth and acidity. There’s a fine balance which you will see over time. Good luck, and here’s to a beautiful and flower filled summer!