How to Control Garden Growth


There are many factors that contribute to successful garden growth. See more pictures of garden ideas.

Although starting a garden can seem intimidating, once your garden is on its way, you'll really enjoy caring for it and observing its unique development. With a bit of tender loving care, regular maintenance, and more plants, your garden will reward your efforts.

A garden is a busy place, with many things to see at once, so it's astonishing how one small dead plant will stand out in a healthy flower border. Keeping order involves getting rid of messy tidbits such as flowers gone to seed and yellowed leaves, preventing or removing weeds, training or staking tall or climbing plants, and nipping and cutting for overall plant shape, tidiness, and health.

In this article, we'll explore several aspects of controlling garden growth, including pinching back,weeding, pruning, pruning shrubs and vines, trimming and deadheading, how to stake plants, staking systems for plants and how to prepare the garden for winter.

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Keep reading to learn about pinching back plants.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

Pinching Back

Pinch annuals like coleus, browallia, and petunias to keep them full. These plants can get tall and gangly as they grow. Removing the top inch or two of stem will correct this. More is at work here than shortening the stem. Removing the terminal bud (at the stem tip) forces side branches to grow, making the plant fuller.

Also pinch perennial asters and mums. Remove the stem tip with a pinch of your fingernails or with pruning shears to keep the plants compact and bushy. Flowering plants purchased in a pot have been specially treated to make the plants bushy and full. If left untouched the following year, they will grow tall, scraggly stems that are more likely to need staking.

If you want fewer but larger flowers on your peonies, pinch off two of the three flower buds in a cluster on a single stem, well before they are ready to open. The plant's energy will be routed to the remaining bud. Blossoms of peaches, apples, and roses can be thinned, too.

Shear reblooming perennials such as catmint and Moonglow coreopsis to promote a second flush of flowers. Getting rid of the old flowers and seedpods encourages new growth, new buds, and new flowers.

Keep reading to learn about weeding.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

Weeding

Periwinkle can grow thickly enough to crowd out weeds.

The best cure for weeds is prevention. Plant weedy spots with thick-growing ground cover to minimize weed growth. Ground cover works well on banks, in sun or shade, under fencing where it's hard to keep weeds down, beside outbuildings, and even under trees where it's too shady for grass to grow. It's important to start the ground-cover bed in weed-free soil, however, so the ground cover can take over without competition. Turn the soil with a rototiller or spade, let the weeds sprout, and then turn it again. Repeat this until the weeds are almost gone.

Choose a ground cover that will spread vigorously and grow thickly enough to crowd out any weeds that try to get in. In shady areas, try ivy, pachysandra, barrenwort, wild ginger, or periwinkle. In sun, try creeping junipers, daylilies, ground-cover roses, or other plants that are suited for your climate.

For good results fast, buy plenty of plants and space them relatively close together. If this is too expensive, spread plants farther apart, and mulch the open areas to discourage weeds. Plan to keep a close eye on the new garden for the first year and pull up or hoe down any weeds that appear. Water and fertilize as needed to get the ground-cover plants growing and spreading quickly. Once they've covered the soil solidly, there won't be any space for weeds.

Unfortunately, no matter how diligent you are, weeds are bound to crop up somewhere eventually. Use a sharp hoe to scrape off weeds, especially annual ones, instead of stooping and pulling them. Using a hoe is quicker and easier than hand-weeding, plus it does a superb job. If you catch weeds when they are young seedlings, a single swipe will eliminate them. If they are older, cut them down before they go to seed to prevent future generations of weeds. If your garden is too small for a long-handled hoe, get a small hand tool with a hoe or scraper on the end.

Perennial weeds such as dandelions may have large underground roots that will resprout after hoeing. When the soil is moist, use an asparagus fork or dandelion weeder (a stick with a forked prong on the end) or the corner of the hoe blade to dig down and loosen the root. Then pull it up by hand.

Keep reading to learn about pruning.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

About Pruning

Wait to prune oak trees, like this white oak, until late winter.

Pruning is an aspect of gardening that many people find confusing. When to prune? What to prune? How to do it? When to call in the experts?

When to prune depends on the type of plant and the reason for pruning. As a general rule, you should prune in late winter or early spring to stimulate growth and in early summer to slow growth. However, there are exceptions. Trees, shrubs, and vines that bloom in spring are blooming on branches whose flower buds have formed the previous year. They are usually pruned immediately after they finish blooming, to prevent losing this year's flowers and to stimulate fresh new growth that will produce more flowers the next year. Those that bloom in summer are usually blooming on new wood. Prune them during the following spring.

Most hedges can be pruned in any season, as needed. It is best not to prune at the very end of summer because this can promote soft, new growth that is susceptible to winter damage. You can always eliminate dead wood or a badly straggling branch. Informal blooming hedges such as forsythia and rose-of-Sharon may be pruned after blooming.

There are two types of coniferous plants that require different types of pruning. The first are those that put out their entire year's new growth all at once, in late spring. This group includes pines, spruces, and firs. They can be pruned by removing up to two-thirds of the new growth while it is still fresh and pale green. With pines, this process is called candling. Do not prune the shoots all the way back to old wood because they will not produce new shoots from those sections. Evergreens that grow throughout the summer, such as yews, arborvitae, and junipers, are pruned once in early summer and again, if necessary, later in the season. They can also be pruned more heavily, down to old wood if necessary.

What to prune depends a great deal on the effect you want to create. There are major differences between the way to prune shrubs and the way to prune trees. Except under rare circumstances, ornamental trees should be left to take their natural shape and appearance, resulting in little need for pruning. They are usually pruned only to remove damaged or diseased branches or ones that cross, rub together, or form an overly acute angle with the trunk.

Suckers (also called water sprouts) should also be removed. Suckers are upright, unbranched sprouts that often appear at the base of the tree or on the lower trunk. Sometimes the upper limbs of overly dense shade trees can be thinned to open them up, allowing more light to reach the garden below. In most cases, major pruning on a large tree should be left to a professional arborist, especially if there are electrical wires nearby. Large branches require a pruning saw and should be removed back to the trunk or a main branch. Do not leave a stub, or the healing process will take too long.

Prune low-hanging branches on a sunny day so you can see how the light changes. This way you can watch the shade lighten. You also can keep an eye on the shadows, which will dance from one side of the tree to the other, changing with the time of day and position of the sun. Their silhouettes can be a beautiful part of the garden, especially in winter when the dark shadows stand out on the white snow.

Do not prune oaks in summer. Even though this may be when you are anxious to lighten shade the most, it will make your trees susceptible to oak wilt disease. Instead, prune in late winter.

Keep reading to learn about pruning shrubs and vines.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

Pruning Shrubs and Vines

Treat vines, like this cross vine, the same as shrubs when pruning.

Different pruning techniques are used on shrubs, depending on the desired effect. Formal hedges, topiaries, and other closely clipped forms are sheared, which means all branches are clipped to the same length for a smooth edge. Some shrubs that bloom on new wood are also sheared back annually to the base to encourage a maximum number of branches and, thus, more flowers.

When a more natural shape is desired, shrubs are generally thinned, especially fast-growing types of deciduous shrubs such as forsythia and weigela. Older or excessively long branches and weaker secondary branches are removed down to a main branch or to the base of the plant. This allows room for younger branches to grow, producing a heavy flush of flower buds for the next bloom season. Thinning (renewal pruning) is usually the preferred method for pruning spring-flowering shrubs and is carried out as soon as the year's flowers have faded. The prunings can sometimes be used for cuttings.

When pruning, begin by removing old, weak, damaged, or crowded branches at their base. But don't indiscriminately shear off the top of the plant. The terminal buds on the branch tips release hormones that encourage root growth and maintain a slow, orderly pattern of growth. These are both desirable qualities worth preserving in your shrubs.

Consider changing an overgrown shrub into a multistemmed tree. This works nicely with flowering plums, black haw viburnums, winged euonymus, and lilacs, all of which can grow to be 12 to 15 feet tall. Begin by removing small, crowded upright stems to reveal a handful of shapely mature branches that can serve as trunks. Cut side shoots off the trunks up to about five feet off the ground, creating a tree form. Continue pruning as needed to keep the trunks clear of growth.

Pruning Vines

In general, vines should be treated in the same manner as shrubs. Vines grown for their foliage often produce overly exuberant growth, especially once they are established. They need to be pruned regularly and can be pruned at any time except late summer or early fall. Pruning at that time of year can result in new growth that does not have time to harden properly before winter arrives.

Keep reading to learn about trimming and deadheading.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

Trimming and Deadheading

Trimming and deadheading help keep gardens tidy.

Plants are trying to live their lives, not just please a gardener. They flower and go to seed. The seeds are their next generation, and they receive energy from the plant. If you want your garden plants to go on growing and blooming, you need to trim off the seed heads (unless you wish to collect and grow those seeds). This makes the garden look neater and diverts energy away from seeds and into fresh roots, leaves, and flowers. Just a few straggly seed stalks or pods can make a garden look untidy. If you don't notice it at first, take a photograph and check it out.

However, deadheading can sometimes be carried too far. Seeds of rudbeckia and other meadow plants can feed our songbirds, and seed plumes of sedum and ornamental grass can become attractive garden features in winter.

With reblooming roses, you'll want to remove the spent flowers in the early summer to promote a new crop of blooms. But in late summer or fall you may choose to leave them in place to make fat orange pods (the rose hips) for winter ornament.

Deadhead hybrid rhododendrons and mountain laurels to increase next year's bloom. Once the flowers begin to fade, use your thumb and forefinger (or small needle-nose pruning shears) to cut off the soft, immature flowering cluster. Just be careful not to damage nearby buds or shoots, which will soon be sprouting into new branches.

Keep reading to learn about how to stake plants.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

How to Stake Plants

Some plants may be in need of staking more than others.

To stake plants well, it helps to anticipate the growth that occurs in a season. Plants that look fine in June can be top-heavy and keeling over by July or August. Tall flowers and vegetables may not be able to support the weight of their flowers and fruit. Plants growing in less sun than they like are more in need of staking or props than others.

Stakes, cages, or wire grids keep tall plants from falling on their faces. Stakes can be made of wood, bamboo, or wire coated with plastic. You can even use tree or shrub prunings, straight or branched, as natural-looking props for your plants. This is an old British trick called pea staking. It helps perennials stay upright and look natural without glaring metallic stakes or forced shapes that result from corseting with twine. Even better, pea staking costs nothing but a little time. When the perennials begin to arise in spring, set the ends of sturdy branched twigs around the plant. The twigs should be about as long as the height of the perennial. As the stems grow, they will fill out to hide the twigs. You can cut off any errant woody stems that remain in sight after the perennials reach full height. When you tie plants to their stakes, be sure to use garden twine or soft string or yarn, not wire, which can easily slice through plant stems.

Keep reading to learn about staking systems for plants.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

Staking Systems for Plants

Delphinium are available in small sizes that are self-supporting.

A classic staking system for climbing plants such as beans, peas, cherry tomatoes, and morning glories is a teepee made of four or five sturdy, bamboo, wood, or metal poles (six feet is a good length). Set the bottoms about six inches into the ground in a square or circular manner. Tie the poles together firmly at the top with garden twine. This will make a cone-shape support that can be taken down after use and used again the next year. Peas have tendrils that clasp the poles, and morning glories twine around them, but most other plants need to be trained as they grow and tied with string.

Flowers such as delphiniums, asters, dahlias, and Shasta daisies are now available in compact sizes that are self-supporting. Shorter types of daylilies are less likely to become floppy in low light than taller types. Compact types of peas and tomatoes, though not entirely self-supporting, can be allowed to grow loosely on their own, or they may need only small cages or supports such as twiggy brush.

For taller types, you can stake each plant individually, inserting the stake several weeks before the growth gets going and tying the plant loosely to the stake at intervals as it grows. The ties should loosely connect the main stem to the stake and should not bind the individual leaves or flowers. Once a plant has flopped over, it is usually too late to do much about it.

Bushy plants such as peonies can be propped up with greater ease by using grow-through or grid supports. You can buy commercial grid supports, which are handsome round or square grids neatly set on straight legs; green grids are more camouflaged amid the foliage than metallic grids. You can also make your own grid supports out of a sheet of wire mesh, cut a little wider than the plant it will support. The extra length can be bent into legs, or legs can be made from wire or coat hangers. Get the supports in place early, before the small flower buds start expanding and become too large to grow through the holes in the grids. Set the grid over a newly emerging perennial in spring. The stems grow though it, retaining their shape while staying firmly upright.

Larger garden structures such as trellises, pergolas, arches, and fences can be used as plant supports. A chain-link or wire-mesh fence can be used to support vegetables or flowers.

Keep reading to learn about how to prepare the garden for winter.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.

How to Prepare the Garden for Winter

Add your garden's plant debris to the compost pile.

At the end of the growing season, it is cleanup time. You should eliminate plant debris where pests can lurk over the winter. The compost pile is a better place for brown flower stems, frozen impatiens plants, dead leaves, cornstalks, and weeds.

But don't throw away things that are beautiful. Hosta leaves turn golden, just like autumn leaves, and you may as well enjoy them that way before they turn brown and you clean them up. Throw any disease-infested plant parts into the trash; do not compost them. When the garden is clean, you can mulch it for easier digging next spring.

Mow down old flower stalks in late fall to clean up a flower garden with ease. Before mowing anything but grass with your mower, make sure it has a safety feature that will prevent debris from being thrown out at you. Using a suitable lawn mower can save you plenty of time compared with cutting back the flower stalks by hand. If you allow the old stems to scatter around the garden, instead of bagging them, you may find an abundance of self-sown seedlings arising in the springtime.

Want more information about gardening? Try:

  • Garden Care: Find all the tools you need to care for your garden.
  • Annuals: Explore beautiful and versatile annual plants and flowers.
  • Perennials: Learn all about the plants and flowers that make up these garden must-haves.
  • Gardening: Find out everything you need to know about all aspects of gardening.