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Kentucky by Heart: ‘Deadheading’ away the bad, and making way for nature’s new and better way forward

Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Early in my life and especially through my teenage years, the term “deadhead” meant something like what my mother used to good-naturedly call me when I got up in the morning and showed little energy. But as an avid gardener today, the same term has become a verb — and one that brings much personal satisfaction.

Deadheading means to remove spent (dead or dying) blooms from a flower to entice it to continue with new blooms. It’s generally a simple and easy chore, and it carries several pleasing benefits.

First, of course, it brings more of a good thing. The early flush of flower pretties doesn’t have to be over for the season, as one can see a remarkable do-over, and often numerous times. Another benefit is that dropping the old blooms on the ground, will, in time, help create a layer of darkish-colored humus, which provides an organic, nitrogen-rich growing matter for future flower growing, a sort of “cherry on top” addition to the regular soil.

Steve deadheading his cosmos (Photo provided)

There are other good results, too, including another cosmetic one. Old and finished blooms are unsightly, and even if nature doesn’t immediately replace them with a new bloom, it certainly improves the looks of your flower bed. And if that’s not enough of the positives, the act of focusing on your flowers closely helps you find unwanted bug predators, such as the Japanese beetles, which I’m currently battling. (That might best stand as the subject of another column.)

For sure, thorough deadheading can become time-consuming if you have large plantings. That’s why I break down my time doing it during the day. A short break from my writing might mean taking a ten-minute walk around the yard where I pull off 50 old blooms from the cosmos flowers, then another specific number later in the day. A complete hour of deadheading likely suits very few people… unless you might make it a social hour with a friend or even your spouse. Individual creativity is the watchword. (Bonding while deadheading, anyone?)

Though doing the deed is not appropriate for all flowers and their blooms, many in a typical Kentucky flower bed are prime dead header candidates. I regularly, and often with the help of my wife, Suzanne, do the purging of the dead blooms on our cosmos, roses, bachelors buttons, daylilies, moonflowers, campions, and black-eyed Susans.

I occasionally wear gloves, but most often not, as I like the feel and the added dexterity from using my fingers. An exception is when deadheading roses. Gloves and a quality set of hand clippers work much better and help prevent the “ouches” coming from the thorns.

And with that, consider this bit of shared information only “entry-level” in scope; I’m not a master gardener yet. There is an abundance of resources about the practice on the Internet by simply typing “deadheading of flowers,” and you can specify the kind of flower. Your local agricultural county extension office likely can be a help, too, and may even have workshops about deadheading.

If you are one who makes it a point to regularly set your eyes on others’ flower gardens, make a note that the factor keeping many flower beds continuously beautiful and others sporadic might well be their frequency of deadheading.

As a writer who also seems always to be looking for metaphors from daily life experiences, the idea of pruning the bad from my own life to make way for the better going forward is one for which I focus. Deadheading my flowers helps me visualize it. I sure feel strongly that it is a worthwhile endeavor.

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This past Sunday, my wife and I attended outdoor church services at the Huntertown Community Interpretive Park, not far from our home in Woodford County.

The event was the culmination of two days focused on the opening of the location, established to give tribute to the community of formerly enslaved African Americans settling there in 1871.

It’s admirable that a group of hard-working and roots-oriented local citizens saw fit to do the hard work of establishing such a place for the good of this generation and those in the future.

For more information about the beautiful park and more history of Huntertown, visit the Facebook page.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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