Deadheading keeps coreopsis in fuller flower.

Deadheading keeps coreopsis in fuller flower.

Summer gardening is mostly about good grooming. It’s too hot to make new beds, it’s too hot to plant anything and it’s too hot to get creative in the garden.

And yet, the garden calls us. The perennials require deadheading — it’s really that simple. Rose blooms need to be cut back to a stem containing five leaflets. Otherwise, some roses will do what they really want to do, which is to go to seed. The reason we stop this process is quite simple: we desire more blooms.

Annuals, which are in our gardens for a short-term investment, are dying to create seeds. Think about basil that puts out flower stalk after flower stalk, stalks that we cut back again and again until we finally give up.

While we think the purpose of annuals and perennials is to give us lovely flowers, their actual function is to produce seeds. In other words, while we gardeners are thinking of the current population, the plants are concentrating on their future generations. An additional reason to discourage seed production is that it takes a lot of energy to produce seeds — and we want to the plant to concentrate on bloom production and root growth instead.

As a result, we deadhead. Spent roses are pretty unattractive as are dead daylily blooms. We gardeners feel a compulsion to tidy up. Daylily blooms last for one day, after which they disintegrate into a soggy mess. Daylily seeds are rather unattractive — and before you think this might produce a hybrid of outstanding success, please note that most natural hybrids are rather blah, running towards the common color of yellow — nature’s idea of a successful hybrid and ours can be radically different.

The crinum blooms are spectacular, especially those of “Super Ellen.” However, a cluster of blooms will not fade at the same time and the old flowers really do distract from the remaining ones. The only solution is to cut off the dead, drooping ones in order to highlight the remaining ones on the cluster.

I love dahlias, especially the gallery series that require no staking, but their blooms will eventually fade, turning an unappetizing color so it’s off with their heads. The marigolds will happily bloom all summer if regularly deadheaded. Last autumn I planted some snapdragons that not only made it through the winter but have bloomed continually throughout the hot summer because I consistently groom them.

Some plants cannot be deadheaded in the conventional sense. Usually these are plants that produce small flowers such as coreopsis and boltonia. For this type of plant, I wait until all the blooms are spent. Then, by grabbing handfuls of stems, I shear off the tops. Some plants will then produce more flowers while others will not — but this gets rid of the problem of ugly, spent flowers.

For those plants that exist is large patches in my garden, I also wait until the blooms are spent and then cut the plant back by half. This works beautifully for Phlox paniculata “John Fanick,” “Robert Poore” and “Delta Snow.” The phloxes then look green and relatively tidy — a pleasing look, I think.

Good grooming can take a lot of time when the weather is hot — and you have other things to do. When purchasing a plant new to you, it’s always a good idea to find out if it’s a high or low maintenance plant. Coreopsises, rudbeckias and boltonias are all low maintenance plants whereas roses and daylilies require a certain time commitment if they are to look their best.

And looking their best is the look we’re searching for. We don’t leave the house without combed hair and brushed teeth: I like to think that some plants also require good grooming.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram at AbsenteeGardener or email

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