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The Best Reason to Prune Flowering Plants (Besides That It's Good for Them!)

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Deadheading is intuitive to even dilettante gardeners like me. It’s natural to pinch off any withered and brown buds, if only for their unsightliness. Pruning a flowering plant in its prime though, requires a deeper commitment to plant care. And an iron will.

But what if you could create an aesthetic incentive to prune and extend your cuttings’ flowering life before they meet the compost heap?

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A pair of Lantana cuttings make a simple, lovely arrangement.
A pair of Lantana cuttings make a simple, lovely arrangement. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Outdoor plants with wooded stems make excellent cut flowers. The dense and often dark foliage contrasts with the bright buds. The branches give you the structural rigidity to construct an arrangement without the aid of floral foam.

The Lantana plant, for example, is a favorite of green thumbs looking to attract butterflies. Its cheerful mix of orange, yellow, and pink buds brighten gardens in addition to drawing pollinators. When I sought to prune my Lantana last summer, I turned to my local experts at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for tips on how to cut and care for blooms in water.

In preparation for this spring and summer—and all the flowers and pruning that will come with them—here’s what I learned about pruning and keeping the clippings as indoor flower arrangements.

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Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • A genus of the Verbena family, Lantanas have multiple buds on each stem, and should be cut when at least one or more of the buds are flowering. For me, this was in the dead of summer.
  • Early bloomers (like lilac, forsythia, and rhododendron) can have their flowers pruned in late spring—right after they finish blooming.
  • Always cut stems on a 45-degree angle to facilitate water uptake in the arrangement.
  • Wooded stems like Lantanas’ should be split with a sharp pair of shears (never household scissors) to avoid crushing the vascular system in the stems.
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • As with all flowers, morning is the best time to prune; afternoon is the worst. If you’re not a morning person, cut in the evening once the plant has cooled off from the midday sun.
  • You can help manage the pH of the water to simulate the nutrients the blooms used to draw from the plant with tricks, like dropping an aspirin or copper penny into the water. (Just make sure the penny was minted before 1982, when the Treasury switched to copper-plated zinc.) The Brooklyn Botanical Garden also offers a recipe for flower preservatives using household ingredients.

Read more about how to give your pruning victims a second life at Brooklyn Botanic Garden!

Tags: flower arranging, plant care