3 Reasons to Trim Back your Annuals

3 Reasons to Trim Back your Annuals 

By: Rob Sproule

How to Pinch Back

Does the idea of hacking back your beloved annuals make you squeamish? A lot of flowering plants not only tolerate it, but thrive on it! Here are the 3 top reasons why you shouldn’t spare the scissors this summer.

“A youth, like a tree, needs pruning.“
– Andrew Wiggins


How to Pinch Back:

When the dog-days of summer loom and the once dense, florific annuals are looking a little ragged just a little too soon, it’s probably time to cut. A lot of people fear the scissors but don’t despair: you’ll get a better show in the long run. Here’s my top 3 for why you shouldn’t winch when you pinch:

1) Because some like it Cool:
A modern Garden Centre is a United Nations of plants. Petunias from South America, Mums from China and Italian Rosemary get loaded onto the same cart, and are often planted into the same pot,  although they have widely different needs. Annuals from the temperate climates of Europe and the Far East will thrive in spring’s cool nights but stop blooming once July’s heat sets in. These include:

• Pansies/ Violas
• Geraniums
• Osteospermum
• Nemesia
• Snapdragons
• Alyssum

Once they start struggling in the heat, give them a generous haircut (about a third off the top), a shot of fertilizer and let them hang out. The heat lovers will steal the show until Labour Day. In the cooler Fall months, your cool season annuals will rebound and give a fresh show that they wouldn’t have been able to without the cut-back. Frost-hardy beauties like Pansies often bloom madly through Halloween while heat lovers have long since faded.

Learn more about caring for your annuals, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

2) To Save the Goldfish:
Remember there were about 12 varieties of annuals available (and they were called ‘bedding plants’). You bought your 6-pack and it took a month to bloom? Simpler times…Today’s Garden Centre is a cacophony of annuals to from, with some being far more aggressive than others. Container gardens are fishtanks. If you blend the passive Marigolds or Snapdragons with brutish Verbena or Trailing Petunias, you’ll want to keep the trimmers handy to save the goldfish from the sharks (probably repeatedly).

If you want to blend a beloved or particularly expensive plant (like an old succulent or houseplant) in a container of sharks, keep it in the pot. Dig a hole for the pot to fit into and submerge. The roots will be safe so you can focus on protecting the top half and you can pluck it out to bring it indoors when Fall hits.

3) Because it makes them Mad:
The best thing about the Incredible Hulk is that the more you beat him up, the tougher and madder he gets. A lot of annuals (and herbs) are like that. Shear off a quarter to a third of the foliage a couple times a year and they’ll get madder, bushier, denser, and bloom gorgeously.

The best annuals to pink back are the bushiest ones:
• Petunias (trailing or upright)
• Pansies
• Calibracoa (Million Bells)
• Bacopa
• Most foliage stuffers (except those with a tall central stem, like Canna Lilies)

Give them a shot of fertilizer after pinching to get them started again. Check back in a week and you’ll see two branches growing out of each node you snipped off. That’s the plant getting mad, and you winning!
Don’t cut back annuals with a dominant central blooming stem, like Snapdragons, Begonias, or Marigold. They’ll take a lot longer to bounce back. Marigolds, Zinnia, Geranium and Cosmos will stop blooming if you let them go to seed. Blooming in a means to an end for them, and yielding seeds is a “Mission Accomplished” sign that tells them they can relax. It’s up to us to keep them working.

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