Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Deadheading and trimming

When I spoke about plants before, I forgot to mention the importance of deadheading and trimming said plants. These are two similar ideas, and both involve lopping of parts of the plant. Grab some scissors!
Deadheading is the process of removing the dead and dying leaves, flowers, and fruits of your plant. This is especially important for food producing plants,or plants in containers, since these dying parts of the plant still require nutrients that could instead be going to the food product. I'm terrible about remembering to do this. In fact, today was the first time this summer that I've remembered to deadhead my squashes! (Probably part of the reason their yield has been so miserable thus far: one zucchini.) My squashes are in containers, which means that they don't have deep soil to work with. The nutrients in the soil in those buckets are it, and I've been having to supplement with plant food. Even that hasn't been enough to up the yield, yet.
When deadheading, it's ok to be ruthless. Flowers that were still all right, but not at their prime, were clipped off without mercy. (Squash blossoms have very short lives, anyway. Also, I should grab some of those and make any of the myriad dishes that can be made with squash blossoms.) Any leaves that looked the least bit wilted or yellowed were treated the same. This will ensure that more of the limited nutrients are going to producing squash rather than just leaves and flowers that won't do me any good. I still feel like I could have--and probably should have--cut them back farther, but I'll see how they go now.
Trimming is also important. Plants are very optimistic by nature, often producing more than they can sustain. My tomatoes are a fantastic example. (Wish I had a picture here!) If the pots were set on the ground, they'd be several feet taller than I am. I had to rig very un-fancy string and tape to hold the tops up, since they outgrew their cages. In the wild, tomatoes grow along the ground so that their fruits are more accessible to bugs. And last year my one tomato fell over, but that didn't seem to harm it so I left it and it still gave me some nice big tomatoes. But these plants at work! Even watering them several times a week, and feeding them, they were starting to look wilted and I couldn't prop them up fast enough. So I got out the scissors the other day and cut back any branches that didn't have tomatoes or opened flowers. By the next day, they were back to looking supremely healthy, and I'm sure there will be more nutrients for the tomatoes now. Their fruit is tiny, but incredibly sweet. And I don't even like raw tomatoes!
My regular houseplants, like my violets, get the same treatment. If there are dead leaves or flowers on the plants, the rest of the plant is less healthy for having them there. You're doing the plant no favors by allowing it to drop dead leaves and flowers on its own.
I hope this information about plants is helpful. I can't say enough how important house plants are for health and happiness!

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