Quick Garden Tip from Neil

I present to you here a group of plants that really should never be allowed to come into flower. These are all plants that we grow for foliage, whether colorful, fragrant, or texturally attractive. In each case, flower buds should be removed as soon as they are visible.

Historically we grew coleus from seed, and it wasn’t unusual for the plants to start blooming as soon as growing conditions became challenging, whether due to heat or drought (or both).

Breeders and plant developers, however, have been extremely busy over the past 30 years finding types that would last through the entire summer without starting to bloom. Hopefully you’ll select types like that and keep them properly watered and fed so that they won’t burst into full flower like this planting I came across just last week as my wife and I ate breakfast in McKinney.

Pinch out the flower buds and take better care of the plants and you’ll have them to enjoy many months longer. (They need larger containers than these plants have.)

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If you cook at home, you’ll almost assuredly grow basil. In its many forms, it’s even quite ornamental. But if you let it start blooming it will quit producing new leaves.

As soon as you see flower buds starting to form pinch out the buds and a couple of normal leaves so that new growth will be foliage, not flowers.

Lambs ear
This perennial is a wonderful low border plant. Its large, fuzzy foliage is a favorite with kids of all ages. But then it tries to bloom. At first sight you think the flowers might be really pretty because the stalks are tall and strong. But the flowers aren’t pretty at all, and they sap tons of energy from the plants. If you let this plant bloom it will thin out and die. Don’t go there. Off with the flower stems as soon as possible.

Some folks will say that these are beautiful. Or fun. Or spiritually significant. They’re out of the Arum family, meaning that their flowers are commonly called “Jacks-in-the-pulpit.” But when the plants start blooming, they quit producing new leaves. That’s going to happen eventually no matter what you do, but you can add several weeks to their productive good looks if you’ll just snap out these flower buds immediately.

This plant isn’t terrifically common, but when you see it it’s usually quite pretty. At least until it tries to bloom. Unlike most of the other plants in this story, its flowers are fairly attractive. But they certainly will shut down the production of new stems and leaves, both of the gray type and of the more easily grown green form. Keep the buds sheared off as they form.

These are a different story. Mums form their flower buds in response to the length of the dark periods (nights). The hormone that causes buds to form is destroyed by light. When nights get long enough in late summer and fall, buds begin to develop. You want to leave those buds in place to make your fall show – obviously!

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However, there is a matching time in the spring when nights are the same length. Some varieties of garden mums get enough darkness in the spring to set flower buds before summer. They will produce flowers in May and on into June. Those are just fine, but there comes a time after you have enjoyed them for several weeks, when you will need to harvest those flowers to use indoors. You’ll want to cut the plants back significantly so new vegetative shoots can start to grow for the summer. Those stems will not produce any flower buds until fall, just the way you want them to behave.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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