Keep Annual Flowers Blooming Longer
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Flowering annuals are generally so easy and dependable that gardeners tend to plant them and forget them. As the summer progresses, that can mean reduced flowering and a display that's less attractive than it could be. It takes only a little attention, however, to keep annuals flowering profusely until frost. One thing gardeners can do is remove faded flowers and developing seed structures. This practice, called deadheading, is particularly important with geraniums, snapdragons, zinnias, pansies and the larger marigolds.
The life's work of annual plants is to produce seed. If you pick off the faded flowers, the plants will keep producing more. If you allow the seeds to develop, the plant has no reason to flower any longer. Many flowers will keep blooming without deadheading, but they may still benefit from having faded flowers removed. They'll look better, for one thing, and they can use the energy they would have devoted to maturing seed to producing more blossoms.
Some plants - petunias and coleus, particularly - may get straggly-looking by midsummer. Elongated stems with few branches and diminishing flower production indicate it's time for drastic action. Use hedge shears or some other sharp-bladed implement to cut leggy plant stems back to 3- to 4-inch stubs with some foliage. Weed and feed and water, then wait. In two to four weeks, plants should be filled out with lots of side branches and blossoming with new vigor.
If you vacation in midsummer, cut plants back right before you leave. When you return, they'll look better than they did when you left, and they'll soon reward you for your efforts with a spectacular flower display that should continue until frost.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office