Cutting back flowers

Very little summer pruning is needed in the bed or border- cutting flowers for indoors and the removal of spent blooms are the only pruning techniques undertaken by most gardeners during the active growing season. Removal of side shoots of Dahlias, Sweet Peas, etc is carried out by exhibitors, but the ordinary gardener only cuts back when growth becomes overcrowded.

It is adifferent story in the rock garden. Some of the popular spring-flowering types will have formed long and straggly stems during summer, and these should be cut back with shearstomakethe plant look neaterandtoensurethatthere will be a cushion rather than a ring of flowers next season.

Aubrietia is a good example, and cutting back can sometimes induce a second flush of flowers.

Stakes, wiresand other meansof support are neverthingsof beauty and can be distinctly ugly when carelessly used, but they are essential for weak-stemmed plants, tall varieties on exposed sites, large-headed flowers and for climbers. Never leave staking until the plant has collapsed. For a few plants, such as Dahlias and Chrysanthemums, the stakes are inserted before planting. With other plants requiring staking, the supports should be put in when the plants are quite small so that the stems can grow through and hide them.

Many forms of support material are available -use the type best suited to the nature of the plant. For many plants requiring staking all you will need is brushwood or pea sticks pushed into the soil around the young plant when the stems are 1-1.5 ft high. At all costs avoid the drumstick effect obtained by attaching several stems of a large plant to a single bamboo cane. Try instead to leave the plant open by inserting three or four canes around the stems and enclosing the shoots with twine tied round the canes at 9 in. intervals.

For the annuals there is no winter care – their life span is over and their rebirth will be in the spring when the seeds are sown. The half hardy perennials must also leave the garden, but for them there is a stay indoors before being reintroduced into the garden with the return of frost-free weather in the spring. It is unwise to generalise about the proper conditions for half hardy perennials and bulbs which must overwinter indoors. It is a period of rest during which bulbs are kept dry and cool whilst varieties overwintered as green plants are given just enough water to keep them alive. However, you must look up the plant in the A-Z guide to make sure that it is getting the right treatment.

Outdoors the border perennials, rockery perennials and hardy bulbs await the return of spring in the open ground. Most of them have nothing to fear – the snow and frost will do them no harm provided the soil does not become waterlogged – drowned roots kill more plants than frozen ones.

Late autumn is the usual time for cutting back the dead stems of border perennials. Some plants are cut down to ground level and others are left with about 4 inches of stem at the base – the A-Z guide will tell you what to do. This winter clean-up will give the border a neat appearance, but there are a number of exceptions. You should not cut down evergreens and winter-flowering plants, of course, and perennials which are not fully hardy should be cut down in spring.

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