Ken Druse needs no introduction except to say he’s been my go-to garden friend for decades, is the author of an amazing 20 books, all of which I have read, and he joins me once each month on my public-radio show and podcast.
Read along as you listen to the May 4, 2020 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
Margaret: Happy spring.
Ken: Thank you. The last time we talked [about dividing perennials], how many comments did you get?
Margaret: Oh my goodness.
Ken: Do you remember?
Margaret: I don’t know. It was like 500 or something.
Ken: Something like that.
Margaret: A lot of pent-up garden energy out there. And actually I was going to ask you, speaking of that and this strange year that we’re in, have you been to a garden center yet this spring?
Margaret: No. And so I want to say I’ve heard from a lot of people, including in some of those comments that you just alluded to, about a lack of availability of seeds first, because all the seed companies got overwhelmed and then of plants and so forth. And you know in the trade press, which I read every week, the independent garden centers around the country have been trying to be deemed essential with safety rules in order. And in many states they are, some states they’re not. It’s changing by the minute, but a lot have curbside pickup, a lot of the independents, your local family-owned garden centers. So I think it’s worth calling, certainly looking at their websites, and calling.
My local place has been amazing to drop bagged goods, even deliver bagged goods, or throw them right in your trunk if you want to pop by with a prepaid order. So it takes some investigating. But I want to support these businesses and plus I need certain things to do some of the projects that I’m doing here.
Ken: Right. What you need is another deadline, right?
Ken: And now people can find you either online twice a week in “The New York Times,” or sometimes in the print version, oh my gosh, in spring with everything else.
Margaret: I know. That started like the last week of April or the next to last week of April. I know. It’s crazy out of the blue. So that’s something new. But yes, so I’m busy. But I’m also, as we’ve talked about before, like you are, taking advantage of this year when people are not visiting the garden to do some chores I’ve put off for a while, when I’m usually busy getting ready for tour. So…
Ken: I’m glad that people are not visiting the garden here because in April, the third week of April, it was in the 20s and the hostas were up because the winter was so warm and so many things have been, let’s say set back. I think some things may be have been killed. [Below, the aftermath of the hostas at Ken’s.]
ARS’s long-reach pruner, it maybe gives you an extra… Well, you can get very long ones, but I have one that’s maybe 4 feet and another one that telescopes to 6, so I can get a lot of those even 8, 9, or 10 feet high, I can get a lot of those deadheads out of a lilac, which is great. And it’s a lightweight aluminum tool, so even for me, it’s not a hard thing to do. So I love those.
Jenny Elliot from Tiny Hearts Farm here in Copake, New York, she always does. And she says she can hardly think of any “annual”—I mean the dahlia is like more of a bulb type of a thing, tuber, but she can hardly think of any annual she grows for her cut-flower business that she doesn’t pinch. The only one that she could really think of off the top of her head in a conversation we had recently, were like the celosias, the ones that get like the brain type of flower formation [and sunflowers don’t get pinched, either]. But basically, zinnias and marigolds, everything… Cosmos she says do really better after a pinching.
And what happens is when you wait until something gets to be, I don’t know, depending on the thing, 3, 4, 5 inches tall. And in some of the cases of the perennials it might be a little taller than that. And you take off maybe half the growth, or in the case of the annuals, you go down a bit so that you leave maybe three sets of leaves down below. You end up with… It breaks, it goes, it gets more stems, and if you’re a cut-flower grower, more stems is a good thing. And stronger stems, right? Not one or two big spindly things, but a more bushy, with lots of flowers being offered. So that’s kind of good.
Ken: Well, and if you’re growing a lot of herbs, you can do that, too. And you don’t have to cut them in half or cut them way back. You can just actually take your fingernails and cut the newest growth, and then the little dormant buds along the axils where the leaves are will wake up, and that’s what turns into a bushy plant. With a begonia, you want to do that with almost every begonia. If you’re growing the fibrous begonias in a pot or something.
Margaret: Right, right, right. But again, you don’t pinch a daylily, you don’t pinch a true lily. You don’t pinch. I don’t think you… You don’t pinch ornamental grasses, peonies, the bearded iris, the Irises. The phlox is such a great example, because almost everyone can visualize when a clump of phlox comes out of the ground, if it’s been in the ground while there’s a hundred or more little shoots, right, in a close proximity. And so you can imagine that that’s the type of thing, and asters are like that. They send up a lot and so forth. A lot of these daisy-like plants as well, so… I’ve even read that you can do it with Russian sage, Perovskia, is that right? I’ve never done it with that.
And then there’s the other form of… it’s not pinching but it’s sort of more deadheading or shearing that comes later. So some of the earlier perennials will have gone by and then some of the ones will go by in like late May in June. And if you don’t deal with them, the garden can really look like hell in July and August. Like catmint or the euphorbias or… It’s nice to give them a cutback after they finish blooming, right?
Ken: And so some of those things will bloom again if you cut them back.
“cutbacks and more: keep the garden looking great when spring fades, with ken druse” was first posted here