Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Deadheading Daffodils: Quick & Easy

Time to deadhead

Our daffodils have spent their blooms for this spring, and now the enlarging but not-so-beautiful seed pods give me pause to ponder, “To deadhead or not to deadhead?”

In its chapter on “Herbaceous Plants,” The University of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook explains “deadheading (removing old flowers)” this way: “Remove spent flowers and seed pods to maintain vigorous growth of plants and ensure neatness and continuous blooming.”

Later a subsection on “Bulbs” adds: “When flowers fade, cut them off to prevent seed formation. Development of seed pods take stored food from the bulbs. Deadheading may also promote longer bloom periods. Avoid removing any foliage.”

As the photo shows, the flowers of our daffodils have faded and seed pods are developing. Removing the developing seed pods will permit the plants to store more food for blooms next spring, which I think is the biggest argument in favor of deadheading. Since daffodils bloom only once a year, deadheading won’t cause them to re-bloom this spring.

I’m not overly concerned with deadheading to keep our beds “neat” because, well, seed pods are part of the natural reproduction process, and I think that’s pretty “neat” in itself. Another reason is that daffodils I don’t deadhead seem to flourish just as well as those I do.

In recent years I’ve thought of another argument against deadheading—and any other garden work, for that matter. It takes time, energy, and—for old joints and muscles—risks aches or pains the next day or two.

The other day my veggie gardens were super-saturated from recent rains, showers, more rains, and more showers, so I had some time to deadhead. Where were my pruners, so, as the Handbook says, I could “cut” off the seed pods?

Well, I used pruners for many years. You know the routine: Open pruners, slip blades down and around a seed stalk, snip, stalk falls into the other hand or onto the ground. Repeat, repeat, repeat scores or hundreds of times.

Then I discovered a much quicker way to deadhead daffodils based on my observation that the large, hollow flower stems often bend over during strong winds. I experimented and discovered that if I run my thumb and first finger down a flower stem about six inches and then bend the stem and snap it all at once, presto, I’ve deadheaded that daffodil.

Fast? Oh, yes! I can deadhead five stems with my fingers in the same time it would take me to deadhead one with pruners.

Any downsides? Yes, I have to bend-and-snap the stalk to make a clean break. If I pull directly up—which I do occasionally—I can rip the whole plant from the ground.

A warning: Bend-and-snap works on daffodils because of their large, hollow stems. It doesn’t work well on tulips, for example, with their more solid stems.

P.S.: You may be wondering why I don’t just shear everything—the leaves and seed stems—to the ground. The reason is that daffodils still need their leaves to make food that will recharge their bulbs for next year’s spring celebration. You can remove the leaves when they wither and turn yellow, usually in early to mid-June.

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