Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cut Back By Half

The last Sunday in February, and it's 60 degrees F out. I just came in from a walk around the neighborhood and it was breezy but pleasant. It's hard to believe this is still February, and leap year to boot, with another day to go.

I sat in the sun on the front porch for a while and thought about perennials.

I like flowers, but I've never really caught on to the care of perennials. Trees and shrubs are my thing -- I love to plant and tend and prune woody plants. Perennials all seem to have these rules about shearing after bloom or cutting back before flowering, deadheading, staking, pinching and thinning that make them seem like a lot of work.

And it's work that has to be done on a schedule.

I'm always too late. By the time I notice a perennial has gotten big and floppy it is well past the time it should have been "sheared after bloom."

When the tall ones lie down on the ground, it is past the window of opportunity to get a sturdy stake or basket ring around the emerging stems.

After a bushy perennial has splayed open in summer I know I've been too tardy in cutting it back by half for compactness or pinching it or whatever I was supposed to do.

So this year I am going to make a list of what to do, and when, and put it on my iPhone with reminder dates that will beep when I must perform some task.

Because there are not enough things in this house that beep each day.


Cut back the garden phlox 'Nicky' by half before it blooms for compactness, and chop the the tall sedums in half too. That will keep them sturdier.
The tall magenta phlox are striking, but needed to be cut back by half before blooming to be sturdier and denser.
Also, the 'Autumn Joy' sedum needed to be hacked in half before it blooms so the flowers don't topple over.

Cut amsonias back about a foot after they are done blooming for compactness and to control splaying -- only hubrichtii and the tabernamontanas. I've never cut them back during the growing season (I cut them to the ground each spring), and they are getting big and rangy and flopping over in summer now. The low 'Blue Ice' amsonia doesn't need any cutting.
The upper left picture is of a trimmed amsonia at Cornell Plantations.
My two plants are shown, unchopped, and getting big and floppy, especially by fall

The patch of turtlehead should be snipped back about 6 inches in June for bushier plants later in the season. The deer used to take care of that job, but haven't lately, so I need to remember to clip the plants back in June.
Shearing these chelone plants off in June makes a nice full stand of them later in summer when they bloom.

In other years I have tried pinching the perennial 'Sheffield' mums and the aromatic asters 'Raydon's Favorite' in June. But it never seemed to do much -- the plants got to the same size and shape as when I did no pinching at all. I'm not sure it's worth the effort to cut them back early in the season.
Whether I pinch the mums and the asters in June or not, they look the same each year

I have to go program my phone now with a beeper reminder that tells me which plants need to be hacked in half in June.

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