The garden centers here in PA are filled with trays of flowering annuals that are already in bloom. These easy to grow plants are a great addition to the garden because most of them flower all season long.
This past week I picked up a tray of snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) to plant in the garden. Despite our amazingly warm spring, I’m still a little nervous about planting tender annuals like marigolds and zinnias this early. Snapdragons are cold tolerant and if there is a frost, it won’t hurt them.
The snapdragons were healthy plants, each topped with a blossom or a flower bud. After I removed them from the tray and transplanted them into the soil, I then did something that would cause many gardeners to gasp. I snapped off all of the flowers and flower buds.
No, I hadn’t lost my mind – there’s method to my madness! When you transplant any plant into the garden, it’s being stressed. You’re changing its environment and it needs time to re-establish itself in the ground by growing new roots and acclimating to its new location.
If you leave the flowers and flower buds on a plant when you transplant it, you’re forcing the plant to make a choice. It can either grow new roots and get established in its new location or it can try to develop the flowers it has and reproduce. A stressed plant will always choose to reproduce. As a result, the plant will use all of its energy to develop the flowers and buds it already has. In time the plant will establish itself and acclimate to the garden but it can be a slow process.
However, if you snip off the flowers and buds of snapdragons, petunias, marigolds and zinnias when you transplant them, the plant will put all of its energy into getting established in the garden. Once it’s established – the roots are growing and the plant is over the shock of transplanting – then it can and will put its full energy into making flowers. Often removing those initial flowers will result in more flowers over the long-term.
If I had my choice, I’d buy trays of annuals without blossoms but they’re hard to find. People want to see flowers on the plants that they’re buying. That’s why I grow most of my own transplants. But when I do buy plants from the garden center, I snip off all the flowers when I transplant them. I’m willing to sacrifice those initial blooms in order to help my plants get established in the garden more quickly.