A little manipulation can yield great results

Stunning displays of tulips are creating quite a garden spectacle as blooms emerge after a long winter. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Stunning displays of tulips are creating quite a garden spectacle as blooms emerge after a long winter. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

There are little manoeuvres you can try to manipulate plants. Some encourage flowering, fruiting and shape, others can be a last resort to save a favourite specimen.

But none would have evoked the response the winter weather appears to have managed. Now the crisis is over, our fruit trees, bushes and ornamental plants are flowering as if their lives depended on it.

Dead-heading plants extends the flowering period. The removal of fading blooms encourages them to produce more. When applied to roses it can secure a fragrant display from early July deep into autumn. It is an essential ploy if you have summer bedding or container displays and want to impress.

A variation of this, cutting back, can coax herbaceous geraniums, delphiniums and broad beans into a repeat performance. As soon as all flowers are spent, or pods harvested, prune the growth close to ground level. If the weather is kind, growth will regenerate.

Fruit trees can be manipulated in various ways. Grafting onto dwarf rootstocks keeps harvesting within reach and makes an orchard of container-grown specimens possible in a limited space.

Pruning methods can dictate the form and shape a plant takes. To avoid congestion at the heart of a plant, prune to an outward-pointing bud and the stem will grow in that direction. This is especially important for gooseberries, which are prone to mildew.

Pinching out the tips of plants and removing side shoots can play an important role in the development of summer crops. This can be done with finger and thumb. The removal of a terminal shoot encourages the development of those below and the plant becomes bushier.

Chrysanthemums raised from stem cuttings benefit from this. Do it when they reach circa 15cm and the result is strong lower shoots capable of bearing flowers. This procedure initiates a similar response from sweet peas.

Persistent side shoots are not welcome on grape vines and tomato plants, and they’re easily eradicated with finger and thumb.

When side shoots (laterals) started emerging from the main vine rod, it was important to monitor their growth daily. Distinctive embryo flower bunches always appear somewhere between the second and sixth leaf joint. Wait until growth has advanced one leaf joint beyond the bunch, then stop further growth by removing the tip. All future energies can then be channelled into the fruit.

Tomato growing brings a similar challenge so finger and thumb come to the fore.

Technology exists to completely control the greenhouse growing environment, even if it comes at a price, but out in the open garden nature decides when growth begins and how long it lasts.

Reference the current situation where plants that survived ‘The Beast From The East’ are openly celebrating in our gardens – and what a spectacle that is.