Tips for End-of-the-Season Perennial Care – Retailer

By Lon Vincent, CCNP, Manager, Wilmore Outdoor Living Center

In August, many people give up on gardening. Their minds are turning to fall, and rather than thinking about keeping plants beautiful, they are planning how to put their yards to bed for the winter. And yet, if they continue deadheading and pruning their plants, they’ll have new blooms and healthy foliage for a couple more months.

“It doesn’t take that long to pinch-pinch-pinch and water and fertilize,” said Lon Vincent, CCNP, Manager at Wilmore Outdoor Living Center in Littleton, Colo. “It’s just leg work. People are getting lazier and lazier every year, or they are trusting the internet to advise them on plant care. They need to talk to a real person. It’s not your plant’s fault if it starts looking bad; it’s your fault. You have to keep it wet, fertilized and pruned back.”

Vincent is constantly telling customers about the importance of regular deadheading and pruning. His garden center also holds plant care classes and sends out tips to its email club about how to keep plants healthy into late summer.

“We show them a petunia that wasn’t deadheaded, compared to one that was,” he said. “Pruning is a huge thing. We deadhead all the time, almost year round.”

All perennials should be pruned constantly to take off anything brown. Woody plants can be pruned whenever they bloom to get rid of dead petals.

“You’ve got to prune to stimulate growth. Auxin is a hormone at the tip of the bud. If you remove that, it inhibits lateral growth,” he said. “Through the whole season, a perennial is blooming. If you prune them back, you can get a fall bloom out of them. They don’t go to seed.”

He points to the example of poinsettias, which respond to pruning with the growth of multiple flowers, rather than a long skinny one. Spireas are another good example: if you cut them back, they bloom into fall, too.

Besides keeping plants pruned and cleaned, he recommends keeping them fed constantly. “Every time you water, fertilize. You should hit them once a month with heavy fertilizer so they are constantly absorbing, and look good all the time.”

To help customers understand how plants can be used around the home and yard in late summer, Vincent and his staff create demonstration pots with different combinations of flowers. Creating new combinations and switching them out often “plants the seed with people and shows them the options of different colors, heights and textures, looking at the foliage too, not just the flower.”

“There’s no color wheel anymore. Blues and lavenders can go together,” he said. “You can use something tall, a filler, a spiller — there are so many different options. It’s not 1990 anymore. It’s almost too much — it gets confusing. Furniture and clothing are in the middle of the color revolution, and so are plants. You have to think outside of the box.”

He advises customers to pay attention to their backgrounds, not placing white flowers in front of white walls or red blooms in front of brick walls. Combining different pots is also an art nowadays. “It’s not one little, tiny pot on each side of the door anymore. It can be three huge pots on one side,” he said.

Wilmore gets really creative with its planters, playing with textures and even plant types. Mixing house plants with traditionally outdoor varieties like vines, or flowers with vegetables, is no longer taboo. Vincent also gets inspiration from the planters at the Denver Botanic Gardens, with its unique combinations and varieties.

“Today, you can see cucumbers hanging down rather than trailing inca, or some tomato plant used as filler in flowers. Twenty years ago, that would have been horrifying, kind of like chickens in the ‘90s were a no-no, but now are a really cool thing,” he said. “Enjoying your plants late into the summer and early fall is all a matter of having a little fun with the possibilities, plus a commitment to pruning, watering and fertilizing. Garden centers do it and our customers can, too.”

Lon Vincent