Looking good after the bloom

Many perennial flowers lose their good looks after their blooms have faded, developing a tattered, ragged appearance as the leaves on the flowering stems turn yellow or brown. Just removing the spent flower heads isnt enough. To keep your garden looking its best after flowering you need to do more aggressive pruning. This encourages new shoots of attractive, healthy leaves to grow from the base of the plant. Not all plants fade after flowering, but most look better if given a good pruning once their blooms have faded. This group includes centaurea (mountain bluet), Shasta daisy, catmint (Nepeta), mallow, coreopsis, delphinium, lupine and dianthus. Delphinium will almost always reward you with a second flower show in late summer if you remove the flower stalks as soon as they fade, and sometimes the centaurea will too, but most other perennials bloom just once a season. Before you begin cutting, take a look at a perennial thats finished flowering. See how the flowering shoots are beginning to yellow while the leafy shoots still look fine? Now push the old flower stalks gently aside. Can you see any new shoots beginning to emerge near the base of the plants? If so, you can prune without hesitation. Once the old, dominating flower stalks are removed, the new shoots will be free to expand and grow. The plant might look bare after you prune it, but those new shoots will fill in quickly. When in doubt, prune it out. The new shoots will strengthen the root system of the plant and produce food to be stored for next year. If you dont see any new shoots at the base, youll need a little nerve to get started. If unsure, cut back one plant or part of one plant but leave another plant of the same species unpruned, then watch the difference. Seeing the difference should convince you to prune more next year. Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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