Gardening means different things to each of us. For some, spending hours in the garden is not at all work. Others may, after only just a few minutes, decide that that’s enough work and move on to other more enjoyable tasks. This idea of work in the garden is one of the facts of gardening I enjoy the most. By that I mean you can put in a little effort or a lot and still feel some level of satisfaction.
Of course, when it comes to just about anything that involves work usually the more you give the more you receive. That statement is very true about gardening.
Put a plant in the ground and give it the basics of food and water and it is sure to grow. But as with many things in life, pay a little more attention and the plant will not only grow but thrive. A little more fertilizer, a well-timed watering or even searching out the best variety may increase your rewards.
Here again I still like to think of this as a continuum. There is a point where inputs and outputs meet our needs. It is the level of needs we desire that helps determine the amount of effort or work we put into the garden.
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One such effort that I vacillate on is dead heading. Dead heading is a term used to describe the process of removing spent flowers. The theory is dead heading makes the plant look neater, and directs energy to building more growth or stimulating new flower production. When I approach dead heading in the garden I first focus my attention on plants that may rebloom later in the season if the old flowers are cut away.
Examples of plants I dead head include reblooming daylilies, coreopsis, coneflower and several summer blooming shrubs. Shrubs I dead head include the dwarf spirea, butterfly bush and roses. By snipping off those spent flowers I know I will get a second or maybe even a third flush of flowers. You can probably guess I am all about the flowers.
Dead heading is a somewhat easy process. I usually accomplish this task while strolling through the garden enjoying the fruits of my labors. I carry with me a five gallon bucket and pruning shears. As I walk I snip, paying most attention to plants that may bloom again or those that set seed and overwhelm the garden. That’s another benefit of dead heading; preventing some wild seeders from spreading by cutting off the supply chain.
The process is simple. Just remove the bloom stock down to the next lower flower bud. Some cases such as daylily and iris that may require cutting back to the ground because more flowers are not produced on the stalk. Perennials like salvia, coreopsis and Shasta daisy will produce side shoots or blooms off the main stock. These may be cut back several times, encouraging new growth.
Sometimes I am very careful where I cut so as to help preserve or enhance the beauty of the plant. Other times I employ my “whack it back” attitude were I simply shear or randomly cut back the plant. This is the case of the pink blooming dwarf spirea. Once that first flush of flowers have past, I gather up a handful of branches and cut them in half. This takes off the old blooms and encourages the plants to send up new shoots that will delight again in a few weeks.
The question is where you draw the line when it comes to work in the garden. I honestly have to say for me it varies and depends on my mood and energy level. But for a real gardener the idea of working hard is most likely reserved for those more mundane chores of life like laundry, dusting, vacuuming …. Well you get the point.