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Lunaria

Sunflower seeds are popular with birds. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Once our beautiful flowering plants have bloomed, the question then becomes, what do you do next, if anything. Deadheading is frequently recommended for plants with many or large flowers such as rhodies. But, the question is, should you deadhead your flowering plants? The answer is yes and no.

Deadheading helps the energy of the plant go into growing the plant rather than producing seeds. Some plants will bloom again or continue blooming if deadheaded. Coreopis, daylilies, roses and marigolds are all plants that will produce more blooms if deadheaded. So will cosmos and geraniums (Pelargonium). After all, the botanical purpose of flowers is to produce seeds. If you remove the remains of the flowers before they go to seed, the plant will generally send up more flowers so it can produce seeds.

In addition, deadheading makes plants look tidier by removing the brown/curled remains of old flowers. Some people don’t like the look of the flowers that form on hostas, planting them instead for their unique leaves. If you feel that way, remove the flower as soon as you see it.

However, don’t deadhead if:

• You plan to save the seeds of heirloom plants, particularly tomatoes, for next year. Take one of the best tomatoes, cut it open and remove the seeds and dry them. There are even seed exchanges where you can trade some of your heirloom seeds for others.

• The plant is a self-seeder (volunteer) like lunaria or columbine. Then you want the plant to go to seed, spreading the seeds throughout the garden for next year.

• Some plants bloom only once (like Hydrangea macrophylla), but the blooms stay on the plant all season. In that case, don’t even think about deadheading.

• You want the local birds to have a food source. Sunflowers are particularly popular with birds, as are tickseeds (from coreopsis) but so are most flower seeds.

• You like the appearance of the seed pods (for example, lunaria) or the remains of clematis.

• You plan to eat the seed pods (green beans, snap peas, melons, squash, apples, etc.) that form from or around the flowers. Or, in the case of roses, plan to use the rose hips to make jelly.

• You can’t comfortably reach the flowers. Don’t damage your plants by bending branches down just to reach and remove spent flowers, or climb on a ladder if it’s not safe to do so.

• You’ll damage the plant’s growing sections. For example, rhododendron’s new leaves come out from the end of the branch, where the flower has bloomed. When pulling off the remains of the flower, it’s easy to accidentally knock off the new leaves coming in. As a result, I never deadhead rhodies. I let the flower remains fall off naturally.

Remember that deadheading means just removing the spent flower, cutting as little of the stem as possible. It is not pruning where you cut back a plant drastically. However, if you are deadheading a plant that has a single flower at the end of a long stem, like a daylily, cut that stem back to the ground.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Purple lunaria flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

One of the reasons I really like perennial plants is because it’s the “plant once, enjoy for many years” form of gardening. Perennials, provided they are adapted to your growing conditions (hardiness zone, fertilizer, soil pH, amount of water, etc.) will return year after year.

But, there is another way of planting once and enjoying for many years — by growing plants that are known for self-seeding. They put out seeds in the late summer and fall, the seeds survive your winter conditions and germinate the next year. Some of these are biennials, which means that the individual plant will grow back a second year in addition to scattering seeds. Some are annuals, with the original plant dying and only the seeds surviving the next year.

If you do decide to plant self-seeding plants, make sure you know what the seedlings look like. While in some cases the seedling looks very much like the mature plant’s leaf, in other cases, it’s hard to tell. You don’t want to accidently pull out a desired plant thinking it’s a weed.

There’s another caution with self-seeders. Because they produce so many seeds, they can become invasive with your flower bed looking very messy. So, you need to be careful in planting them and not be hesitant to “rip out” what grows where you don’t want it.

One of the best self-seeding plants is lunaria (pennies, honesty, money plant). The name comes from Latin, meaning moon-like, which refers to the oval, silvery seedpods that are produced on the plant toward the end of the growing season. While some are annuals or perennials, most commonly found in seed catalogues are biennials.

The flowers are beautiful — white or purple — and appear in spring with seed pods the second year after sowing. They are easy to naturalize if you have a wooded or partly wooded area where the seedlings won’t be disturbed. A mass of these is stunning even from a distance away. The flowers can also be collected and dried for arrangements. Make sure you leave some flower go to seed for next year. Foxglove is another biennial that self-seeds.

Another self-seeder (which is also a perennial) is Echinacea, that is, coneflowers. These beautiful flowers attract birds, which love the seeds. Leave the seed heads on the plants in fall. What’s not eaten will fall to the ground and come spring, more plants will grow.

Other self-seeding annuals include New England asters, coreopsis, feverfew, violets, sweet peas and blue woodruff.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.