Off with their heads, if you want to keep plants flowering

It's been a good year for onions.
It's been a good year for onions.
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The very dry weather has been good for onions and shallots. For the first time in many years most allotmenteers have been digging onions which are firm with no neck rot.

If your onions have died down, fork them out and hang them in bunches near the greenhouse door.

Another great success story this summer is a lettuce named Salad Bowl. This is a tasty, curly-leafed variety picked regularly by taking a colander into the garden and filling it with leaves cut from the plant with scissors.

I have found another, quicker way of gathering them. Simply sow patches of seeds directly into the ground and once large enough, cut off bunches of leaves including the base of the stem with a sharp knife. If you have never grown this pretty lettuce, sow some in pinches this week and you will enjoy the leaves in the autumn. Try it in a flower border.

This is the time when things start to let us down, the hanging baskets and containers aren’t as good as they were in July and yet, it’s only August. All the annuals should still be looking good.

The main reason for lack of colour is because plants have not been fed, watered and dead-headed regularly.

Pam and I spent several hours dead-heading all the plants last week. Every seed head was removed – all the dead flowers too. It took ages and bidens in particular was difficult because the flowers are on long stems and it is difficult to see whether the rounded flower buds are still to open or dead.

We decided to cut them back to where there were frills of leaves and then gave all the containers a feed of Maxicrop Complete. This is quite expensive but it feeds the compost and the compost then feeds the plants. Cheaper ones do nothing for the soil and just feed the plants.

Within a few days we had new growth on all the plants and the bidens were shooting again. They will be brilliant until the cold weather arrives.

There is a little knack when dead-heading petunias of all types. The petunia flower is right at the tip of all the shoots, the ones below that are all dead flowers although they look as if they are still to come into bloom. Look further down each side shoot and you will see seed heads. These must be removed. Scissors are handy for this job.

All annual plants have a natural urge to produce flowers because they must produce seeds so the species can survive. Once flowers are pollinated the seeds form. The plant is then content not to produce more flowers unless encouraged to do so. That’s where we gardeners come into play. We keep removing the dead flowers and feed the plants. The plants are concerned there are no seeds so they keep growing so that eventually seeds are produced.

The flowers in our garden must be completely frustrated... if you see what I mean!


If there is an embarrassing gap in a border pop in a pot-grown cosmea. There are lots available at garden centres and cosmea continues to flower right up until the first frosts.

Another good idea is to buy a potted dahlia in flower. Blooms will appear every week until those frosts bite.