If you read my “Introduction” in the tab at the top of the screen, it says that my first job was in gardening, where I was paid the princely sum of $1 a week to deadhead a neighbor’s petunias.
To some of you, this may make no sense in this era of branded petunias that need no deadheading (and by branded, I mean trademarked petunias with names like Wave and Supertunia and Surefinia–petunias that grow so fast that they literally outgrow their ability to set seed, or plants that may be bred to be sterile).
But then there are the “old-fashioned” kind. This kind is most often sold in the little black cell packs, 4 or 6 to a pack. They come in a greater variety of colors than the branded petunias and they can also be ruffled, bicolored–and best of all–some of them are fragrant.
But then again they do have the drawback of needing to be deadheaded. Now, what do I mean by that? When I worked retail, I used to try to explain that to customers. I would explain that an annual is a plant whose sole job is to set seed and die, so you do not want to give the plant a lot of opportunities to do that (that’s why annuals have such a long bloom time–they keep trying to set that seed.)
Don’t confuse annuals with plants we grow as annuals like impatiens. These are really tender perennials. It may sound like a confusing difference but what it means is that impatiens can make all kinds of seeds all over the place and still not die because it is a perennial. It may not be perennial for most of us in our climates but the way to tell the difference is if you brought an impatiens in for the winter, it would grow (provided you gave it sufficient light and water). If you brought a true annual in for the winter, it would still die–because its function is to set seed within one season and to die.
Still confused? Think about basil. Know how hard it is to keep basil from flowering? That’s because it’s a true annual and it wants to set seed and die. We don’t have that problem with most of our other perennial herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, etc. Cilantro and dill are two others. They keep flowering because they are true annuals and that’s what they do.
But back to deadheading. Since we know we need to deadhead the “old-fashioned” petunias (and given my upbringing, of course I grow those, as well as some of the newer types that do not need the deadheading), let’s make sure we know exactly how to do that. Every so often when I’m deadheading, I think back to a conversation I had once when I was in retail gardening. And sometimes, showing is worth a thousand “tellings.”
A customer swore that she was deadheading religiously but her petunias were still not re-blooming. So it was a slower afternoon and I was able to walk her over to one of our planters and to ask her to show me what she was doing. She grasped a dead flower and pulled it out, leaving the empty receptacle attached to the stem.
Of course that also leaves that parts of the plant that will form the seed intact, as I was able to show her on another part of the plant.
Sometimes it’s just as simple as that–no one has properly shown you how to deadhead. I think about that every so often when I’m deadheading myself. Here’s the right way to take off a dead flower (except in this instance, the flower isn’t dead!)
Someday this may be a lost art. But until then, I’ll keep posting about it. And I expect before the end of the month, I’ll be posting about the petunia bud worm that likes these old-fashioned guys as well. Be on the lookout! If we like the scent, so do they!