Some plants are programmed to produce a single flush of flowers before putting their feet up for the rest of the season. Others are capable of flowering continuously and for much longer, if given a little bit of care and attention. Here’s my guide on how to get the most out of your plants this summer.
Dead heading bedding plants
Bedding plants will flower their socks off for ages, and often until the first frosts of autumn, if you nip off their fading blooms. Known to old hands as ‘dead heading’ this ensures plants continue to churn out new flowers and don’t waste energy producing seeds. Forget to dead head and plants will become less floriferous and the floral show will end prematurely.
In my opinion, the easiest way to keep on top of things is to simply spend a few minutes every day removing a few fading flowers. Large blooms on plants like petunias are easy to pinch off with your thumb and forefinger. Use secateurs to cut back flower stalks of geraniums (pelargoniums) once the last flower has started to lose its petals, snipping back to where it sprouts from the main stem.
Some bedding plants are described as ‘self-cleaning’, meaning they’ll drop their fading flowers naturally without any need for a helping hand. Among those you can ignore are calibrachoas, nemesias, bidens, busy Lizzies and New Guinea impatiens. Remember to sweep up fallen petals from the base of pots to keep everything tidy and to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
Spent blooms on roses
Repeat-flowering roses will often put on a show from late spring until autumn, as long as you deadhead regularly. Apart from encouraging plants to form new blooms and not hips, it keeps plants looking tidy and prevents fungal diseases. Simply remove the fading flower and length of stem underneath, cutting back to a shoot with sharp secateurs. Snip off individual flowers from those that form clusters of blooms and then cut the whole head back to a shoot when it has finished flowering. At the end of summer, leave some flowers to form hips for autumn interest.
Keep on top of watering
Lavenders, salvias, rock roses and many other summer flowering plants are tolerant of drought conditions and will continue to bloom if deprived of moisture. Others are not so laid-back and will go into survival mode when parched, wilting and dropping their blooms. Watering after this might perk them up but there’s no guarantee they will continue to flower their socks off.
Water plants in beds and borders in the morning or evening – avoid the heat of the day as much of the water will evaporate before it has a chance to reach the roots of plants. Pay close attention to bedding plants in pots and hanging baskets. These will need watering at least once a day and possibly three times a day during hot, dry spells.
Plants need feeding to thrive and shop-bought plant foods contain different amounts of three major nutrients; nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Each does a different job to encourage healthy growth – nitrogen produces foliage, phosphorous helps root growth and potassium encourages flowers. Perennials are best fed with a balanced fertiliser (one that has equal percentages of NPK) in early spring followed by a top up in June. Bedding plants prefer a plant food that’s higher in potassium, such as Flower Power. For good results, feed them once a week from late spring onwards. It’s important not to over feed plants. Too much can promote soft, sappy shoots that will attract the attention of aphids.
Many plants put all of their energy into a single terminal bud, while other buds along the stem remain dormant. If this tip bud is removed in spring or early summer then buds lower down will produce side shoots. This is called stopping, pinching or tip pruning and is used to make bushier growth that will carry more flowers. You can use this technique on perennials like helenium, phlox and hylotelephium (sedum), along with many bedding plants, such as fuchsia, petunia and coleus. Some plants only need pinching once, while others respond well to having their resulting side growth pinched back to create even bushier plants.
Encourage healthy growth
Healthy plants will put on a better, and longer display, than those that are in a poor state. Get them off to a cracking start by planting in soil that’s been improved with organic matter and is free of weeds. It’s important to grow plants that are suitable for your soil and the specific aspect – sun lovers will be reluctant to produce flowers in shade, while shady customers will turn their toes up in the sun. Plants that are grown in the right place are usually strong enough to cope with pests but keep a close eye out to prevent problems from getting out of hand.