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According to the weatherman, we’re in for a hot and dry summer. For those of us who have stuffed our gardens with flowers. that means we better sharpen up those pruning tools because they’re going to get a workout. 

In hot dry weather, flowers don’t last as long as we’d like and that means we have to do a lot more deadheading to keep the color coming and the garden looking tidy. Deadheading, for those of you who are new to gardening, is the removal of old or spent flowers. 

The primary reason for deadheading is to keep plants blooming. For perennials that may be several weeks or more for those that open over a period of time. In some cases, it stimulates a second flush of blooms later in the season.  For annuals that bloom all season, deadheading keeps them looking fresh and also encourages reblooming. 

Once a plant starts to produce seeds it begins to lose its vigor as it directs its energy into producing that seed. Prompt deadheading in the case of perennials that have bloomed out can promote attractive vegetative growth and root development, which may extend the life of the plant for those that are short lived.    

How one deadheads depends the growth habit of the plant. Some plants begin to flower from the bottom of a stalk or a spike, such as holly hocks. The rule of thumb is to remove the entire stalk when 70 percent of the flowers are spent and are no longer looking attractive.  

For plants that produce multi-branched flowering stems, spent blooms and their stems are cut off at the next lateral bloom or bud. When the last bud on the stem has flowered it’s removed by cutting it back as close to the ground as possible. Bare stems ends sticking out of a plant look awkward and should be removed. 

Prompt deadheading spent blooms also prevents reseeding. Oxeye daisy, considered to be a weed by most, will take over an area if left to reseed. But I enjoy its happy spring show in our wild garden. But to keep it from overtaking other areas, we deadhead them and pull out as many plants as possible before the flowers go to seed. On the other hand, in hopes of establishing a stand of foxgloves, I leave a stalk or two of spent flowers to produce seed. 

"The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques" by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (Timber Press) is the bible of perennial gardeners all over the world and great reading on hot July afternoons.   

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. E-mail her at Yardener.com , Ask Nancy.  You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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