Face lift for a summer garden

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Big betony (Stachys micrantha), a lambs ear relative, is a good performer even in the heat. It has a long bloom period and will bloom again the same year if deadheaded. But its preponderance of brown is not helping the garden's looks or our mood in early July. Get out the scissors and cut that brown out of the picture. 

Face lift? Yes! We cut and smooth and leave fresh space.

Pictures tell the tale.


Take a look at:

1) If it's brown, cut it down.

2) Lively deadheading, and

3) Groom for room: The freshness of space


If it's brown, cut it down.

People are certain about one thing when they cut the top off a dandelion but leave the root, chop a weed tree and leave the stump, or mow the lawn -- they know it will grow back. Yet they doubt their perennials, allowing thbldgHrtBrwnN6691s.jpgose plants to become absolute eyesores rather than take away any of the foliage. BldgHrtOutN6732s.jpg

We feel otherwise. Our standard operating procedure is "If it's brown, cut it down." It will produce clean new leaves and might bloom again when it grows back. If perchance it doesn't grow back, not this year (sometimes cut-backs simply go dormant for the season) or ever (it can happen, but it's not common among otherwise healthy perennials) the bare space is still easier on the eye than browning clutter.

Examples* of what we clipped and why:

Foliage that was fading because it had passed its prime
Old fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) Right: Doesn't the bed look fresher without it?
Perennial geranium (G. sanguineum and G. maculatum varieties)
Daylilies. You're reading this right: We don't simply deadhead, we mow down.




Leaves scorched or killed by heat…

Sweet Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum) scorched where it foolishly grew out beyond the protection of tree shade. (Photo below.)

Bigleaf forget me not (Brunnera macrophylla)

Above: Big leaf forget me not (Brunnera macrophylla), growing in hot dry sun ever since its sheltering tree died. This year, it burned so completely and to such darkness we didn't have to cut. The remains look like black-brown mulch. (Will it die? No, it will grow back. For three years it's burned but returned, ever since the ash that once shaded it succumbed to emerald ash borer. We must get around to redesigning that bed soon!)

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Left: Doesn't the oxeye (
Telekia speciosa a.k.a. Buphthalmum speciosa) look better with the brown clipped away?

Leaves tattered and smirched by pests…HelenFlMildN6634s.jpg
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis and hybrids) browned out by leaf miner

Helen's flower (Helenium variety) clumps that had mildewed because we let them become too crowded. Right: There they are, the shabby creatures. No sense including an "after" picture because you know what empty bed looks like. They'll grow back.



…and if cutting out the individual bad leaves was too tedious, we just
cut the whole plant down:
Hosta (photo below)
Catmint ( photo)


*We give just a few examples rather than a comprehensive list because every herbaceous (non-woody) plant could be listed. None are exempt when we look to cut.



Deadheaders use clippers and a crystal ball: Cut now for glory laterSorbarN6685s.jpg

Examples of what we deadheaded:

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
Ural false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia)


Right: Well, we forgot to take the "after" photo. Too bad since Dawn Miller and Janet did such a thorough job clipping off all the spent Ural false spirea blooms.


Big betony (Stachys micrantha)
Helen's flower

Annual flowers
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)

It may reduce the flowers' impact now but we know they rebound quickly. Their main purpose in our garden is to provide color in late summer and early fall when our perennials are off duty. Clipping now very temporarily reduces color but leads to even more bloom  later.

Below: Celosia, deadheaded

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Groom for room: The freshness of space

One of the most beautiful aspects of spring is the space that surrounds and highlights every bloom. We clip parts of plants and even whole plants right out of the picture now to restore some of that fresh spring feel.

Below, left:We  clipped all through this bed, deadheading A) Salvia superba, B) annual blue Salvia (S. farinacea), C) butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and D) annual celosia.

Below, right: The Salvia superba begging for that cut.

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Below: Isn't the scene much better with space where we razed the scorched, tired hostas and Solomon's seal? It will also look great when they grow back, fresh green.


Making fresh space comes not only from cutting but from propping, staking and otherwise helping plants stay in their appointed spaces.

Below: Some people might think it a very minor detail but we think tying these rose canes into place makes a big difference.

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