To nip and tuck your way through the garden at this time of year is not only something enjoyable, it’s so relaxing it is almost like a meditation. Plus you are more involved with your plants than at any other time of the year, except planting. You can do it for ten minutes a day or an hour every so often. It will make your garden look constantly renewed.

Annuals: The Plants / The Equipment / The Method
Perennials: The Plants / The Equipment

You don’t need fancy equipment just slightly different snippers for annuals and perennials. And here are a few tips to make it effective as well as enjoyable:


These plants are racing to set seeds before they croak in autumn frosts. This means they flower furiously, blooms die and turn into seeds. The spent flower is post bloom and pre-seed and they look awful (dead wet mouse comes to mind). If you take these off a plant (and this is especially true for annuals), they will keep on blooming in the effort to make seed.

The Plants:
The following thrive on this treatment:

  • Tender geraniums (pelargoniums) are usually brittle and easy to remove;
  • Impatiens,
  • petunias,
  • snapdragons
  • as well as vines such as Ipomea ?Blackie’.

Self sowers: let a few to go to seed for next year. They include

  • larkspur,
  • scabiosa,
  • cosmos,
  • cornflower and
  • annual poppies.

The Equipment: It?s primitive…

  • either your fingernails (clean) or the
  • little Japanese scissors that cost a few dollars in Chinatown.

The Method:
You can get right behind the saggy bloom and cleanly snap it off with your fingernails. Or just snip it off with scissors. Geraniums should be taken back to the next node (the swelling along the stalk) with a brisk flick of the wrist. Do this with your container plants every day when watering and combine two pleasurable chores.


From this week on, to remove dead flowerheads is to give the plant a chance to concentrate on getting more strength into its roots before winter. But there are other reasons to deadhead as well ?

The Plants:

  • Shaping: If perennials start looking leggy and ungainly right now is the time to make them more compact. Asters, chrysanthemums and boltonia get huge and many of them are improved by cutting back by about a third from the outside either in a mounded shape (short on the outside and long in the middle) or blunt (whacked right across the top). Go for the mounding, it takes longer but looks better.
  • Re-blooming: Check the base of the plants (hardy geraniums, hollyhocks, perovskia and delphiniums) and cut the plant back to just above where you can see the new growth. This seems extreme but you may also get a new flush of blooms. Not as heavy as the first, but something to cheer things along in late August.
  • Plants never allowed to go to seed:
    • Ladies? Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) you?ll end up with a farm of them;
    • ditto with garlic,
    • chives
    • and tradescantias
    • Anyone who has variegated goutweed or Himalyan balsam and allows them go to seed should be severely reprimanded. They are beyond invasive and will infect entire streets.
  • Some shrubs also benefit with a new flush of bloom, snick off the deadheads of the butterfly bush.

The Equipment:
Clean sharp secateurs.

The Method
For almost all perennials go to the next node (swelling) along the stalk and cut where you see there is new growth. This also helps shape the plant.

Bring out your inner cosmetic surgeon: Nipping and tucking around the garden will make you feel better as well as to keep the garden looking great. In fact don’t even think about going outside without a pair of snippers in your hand from now until October.