Cutting through the jungle

We returned to the garden on Monday to find our seed-sown annuals and first-year-flowering perennials exploding into a mass of lush green growth

Many of the plants, including Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’ and Perilla frutescens var. nankinensis, had doubled in height. There were also more than a few flower buds just waiting to reveal their summer colour. This would be perfect news except they won’t be going out into the garden for a few more weeks, so this means one thing, secateurs.

As nice as the flowers would be, tucked away in the nursery you won’t be able to enjoy them - and after all we grow them for you. Pinching or cutting back the plants has a host of benefits at this time of year. It creates plants that are sturdier and more branched, which means more flowers. For example, an antirrhinum not pinched back can grow a single flowering stem; I’ve seen ones grown to a metre (3ft) high. It looks impressive, but it hardly fills a gap in a border and requires staking to keep it from flopping over. Pinched out it will become a bulkier plant that holds itself up and fills in gaps. It also produces loads more flowers.

The many uses of pinching out

Tender plants after their haircutThe other reason we pinch out the plants is to help keep down pests: because the warm weather means not only an increase in plant growth, but also pest populations, especially critters such as aphids. The more fresh young growth the happier they are, and with all that foliage they have plenty of places to hide from our eagle eyes.

This job will take a bit of time as there are about 1,600 plants that we've grown from seed that will need a haircut. On top of this we have another 2,000 tender perennials in the polytunnel that need the same treatment. These are the plants that I mentioned when we were potting them last October. The heaters have been turned off and the vents are left open all the time to help them harden off, allowing them the chance to adapt from the controlled conditions inside to the more changeable conditions outside in the ‘real world’ of the garden.

Bird of paradise flower ready to go outsideIn our other polytunnel some of the larger specimen plants are also ready to go out soon. The bird of paradise flower, Strelitzia reginae, is already blooming and looks great this year, worthy of a starring role. As there is little likelihood of frost in the coming weeks I will put this out in the next few days. Let me know what you think of its position.

Find out more about what's on at RHS Garden Hyde Hall over the coming months.

See a gallery of what's looking good in the garden this month.


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