There’s not a lot you can do to extend salvia bloom

Last year, we planted about eight dark blue, beautiful salvia plants. The flowers on the spikes that were fully clad in gorgeous purple flowers are now starting to wane a bit, and only the tips of the spikes remain deep purple.

I would love the magnificent color of these plants to last as long as possible. How should I prune to get a second bloom?

Last summer I cut some spikes at the base, and the plant was unattractive for several weeks. Some smaller, spikes emerged from the larger ones, but not with the vibrant color of the first bloom. Is a vigorous second bloom possible?

We also planted an apricot tree, which started out with a few leaves, but now has none. It looks dead except for some green suckers that are growing at the very base of the tree where the trunk meets the soil. Do the suckers mean the tree is alive? Should we cut the suckers?

— Barb

I’m afraid I don’t have any secrets for keeping your salvia blooming longer.

Deadheading (the removal of flowers as they fade) helps to extend bloom on perennials but on salvia the flowers aren’t borne individually. Instead, as you’ve seen, there’s a spike of many flowers that opens from the bottom to the tip over two or three weeks so removing the spent blooms involves removing the entire spike, not much of an option until the entire spike is done. And by then, the plant is pretty much done blooming. 

I have one in my yard and like you, I cut off the spent flower spikes, endure having the plant look a little “peeked” for a few weeks and then watch it produce shorter, smaller flower spikes in late summer or early fall.

Nothing I’m aware of will cause the plant to behave any differently.

As for your apricot tree, chances are, it is a goner. If the suckers are coming from above the graft union (you’ll see it as a little “dogleg” in the trunk down near the soil), cut the dead top off and let the suckers grow.

It will take a year or two, but you’ll have a nice tree. If the suckers are coming from below the graft union, then it’s the tree’s rootstock and pretty worthless as a fruit tree.

My mums are making a half-hearted attempt to bloom. Would I be better off cutting them back now?

­— Launa

Lots of the newer varieties of garden mum will bloom in the spring. I’ve had them in my yard in the past and I’ve always let them do their thing and enjoy the color they bring to the garden.

The problem is that these they don’t know when to stop and they continue to bloom (or at least try) until they fizzle out in mid to late summer.

This is a problem because the plant basically exhausts its resources doing this and there’s nothing left for the fall and you’ll get little if any bloom, which is what we’re really looking for mums to do!

Next year, go ahead and enjoy the flowers in the spring, but when we get into early to mid-June, give the plants a LIGHT haircut.

You’re late this year, but I’d still go ahead and do this, anyway. Just cut off the flowers and flower buds, leaving as much of the foliage as you can.

You don’t have to be completely fussy about this. I’ve used hedge shears a time or two in the past. You’re making the plant stop blooming so it can recover this summer so it will bloom beautifully for you this fall.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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