Summer Loving for your Garden

As we edge into the dog days of summer, your garden might be experiencing extra stress from heat, pests, or just starting to look a little unkempt. We love a wild garden – and so do your birds, bees, and butterflies – but sometimes you might want a little refresh to tidy up your outdoor space. Here are some tips for ways to deadhead and prune your perennials, inspired by our good friends at North Creek Nurseries.


Perennials that bloom earlier in the summer (May-June) may benefit from a little deadheading to remove spent blossoms and even encourage a second flush of bloom. Perennials we suggest deadheading lightly, with a pair of garden shears or scissors:

  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed) – after you enjoy the first flush of bloom
  • Geranium (Wild Geraniums)
  • Nepeta (Catmint)
  • Salvia (Garden Sage)

There are also some perennials that we’d encourage you not to deadhead, because their spent flower heads provide wonderful food for our native songbirds:

  • Rudbeckia (Black- and brown-eyed Susan)
  • Echinacea (Coneflowers)

These seed heads also look absolutely stunning in the fall and winter. We encourage you to appreciate the slow annual decay of your garden, which can be quite beautiful as the vibrant colors of spring and summer give way to the muted browns and ochres of autumn and winter. For more inspiration on winter gardening, check out this stunning article about Piet Oudolf’s approach to four-season gardens in the New York Times:

Mid-Season Pruning

When you need something a bit stronger than deadheading, June is a great time to give some of your perennials a mid-season ‘chop’. This method reduces a plant’s bulk by half or more using garden shears. Here’s a helpful illustration of this method from the Beth Chatto Gardens in the UK (thanks to North Creek Nurseries for sharing!): [Video of Chelsea chop:]

Some of our favorite perennials that benefit from the ‘Chelsea Chop’:

  • Asclepias (milkweeds – butterflies love the tender new growth!)
  • Aster cordifolius (Blue Wood Aster)
  • Aster divaricatus (White Wood Aster)
  • Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster)
  • Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) – but probably not ‘Little Joe’ Pye Weed
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ or ‘Laura’ (Garden Phlox)
  • Solidago (Goldenrod)
  • Vernonia (Ironweed)

If you are feeling particularly creative or experimental, you might even play around with doing a mid-season chop on a portion of your perennial beds, staggering the resulting bloom times throughout the summer. If you do, send us photos of your results!

Rebecca Wall, Landscape Designer, Backyard Bounty