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The Chelsea chop (so called because it is usually carried out at the end of May, coinciding with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show) is a pruning method by which you limit the size and control the flowering season of many herbaceous plants.
Plants that respond well to the Chelsea chop include:
Anthemis tinctoriaEchinacea purpureaHeleniumPhlox paniculataSedum (upright, strong-growing forms such as 'Herbstfreude')Solidago
Many other summer- and autumn-flowering perennials can be treated similarly. The degree of cutting back is specific to each species but the closer to flowering time you prune, the greater the delay in flowering.
The cut-back is performed usually in late May or early June – i.e. around the time of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Some herbaceous perennials can be cut down by as much as half with positive results;
This happens because the removal of the top shoots enables the sideshoots to branch out (the top shoots would normally inhibit the sideshoots by producing hormones in a process called apical dominance). Using this method, along with regular feeding and watering, ensures beds and borders look tidy throughout summer.
You can read more about the Chelsea chop technique in the book The well-tended perennial garden: planting & pruning techniques by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (Timber Press 2006, ISBN 9780881928037).
This book is available from the RHS Bookshop and the Lindley Library.
There are few problems associated with this technique. However, some plants (not on the 'Suitable for' list above) do not respond well and you can lose the flowers for one year.
AGM Plant Trials Herbaceous SedumsAGM Plant Trials Perennial Yellow DaisiesCuttings: rootOrnamental grasses: dividingPerennials: cutting backPerennials: dividingRHS video: chelsea chop
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