After expounding upon the merits of deadheading in a recent post, it occurs to me that I need to also present another side of the issue. Deadheading does produce more flowers overall, and does keep the plants and the gardens looking tidier and fresher, but there is one thing deadheading does not produce….SEEDS! Yes, if you deadhead every flower as it fades, then there will be no seeds. With many plants this is not a problem, because if they are hybrids, they won’t come true from seed anyway. If there are more than one variety of peppers, or tomatoes, or squash, or zinnias or daylilies blooming at the same time, they won’t come true to variety either, but will be cross-pollinated and produce seeds that produce mystery varieties. Often gardeners complain that after growing only one heirloom variety of tomato so they could save the seed, the harvest from those seeds the following year doesn’t resemble the original at all. If one has neighbors within a bee’s flying distance, who might be growing a different variety of tomato, then very likely the tomatoes will be cross-pollinated and create a mixed result. It’s not easy to save seed if you have near neighbors who grow similar crops, but not the exact same varieties.
So, I hear you asking….”What’s her point? Isn’t she still arguing for deadheading?” My response is “Yes, but….!” Overall, deadheading is the rule in my gardens, but with a few exceptions. The first plant that is not always deadheaded is the lovely nasturtium. I grow lots of nasturtiums in various shades of apricot, orange and yellow. They are just too gorgeous and reliable not to have in abundance in the potager. I love to stuff their blossoms with a cheese mixture for a colorful appetizer, or make confetti of the petals to sprinkle over canapes. (For recipes using nasturtiums, go to my website http://www.caroleesherbfarm.com and use the search feature.) The flowers make a wonderful, flavorful herbal vinegar, and the flowers and leaves can be added to salads. I do deadhead them periodically so they keep flowering all summer, but I skip a few plants so I can harvest these: Beautiful, crunchy, peppery nasturtium seeds that can be added to salads, marinades, stir fry, or pickled as a caper substitute. One of my favorite recipes is this chicken dish with potatoes and nasturtium seeds, a one-skillet wonder that is quick and easy. Simply heat a bit of olive oil in a cast iron (or other oven safe) skillet. Add 6 chicken legs or thighs that you’ve seasoned with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides. Preheat oven to 450 degrees while chicken browns. Make a sauce by combining 1/3 c. olive oil, 2 smashed cloves garlic; 2 T. lemon juice; 2 T. coarsely chopped fresh nasturtium seeds; 1/2 tsp. pepper; 1 tsp. salt. When chicken is browned, add 3-4 medium potatoes, cut into quarters. Pour the sauce over and place in oven for 30-40 min., until chicken is done. I wouldn’t want to be without nasturtium seeds, so various plants are rotated in the deadheading schedule. I also often dry extra seeds to plant next year, and also to use as a pepper substitute. Another plant that is allowed to produce seeds, and is also sometimes used as a pepper substitute is nigella. Once the flower disappears it is replaced by a striking purple-streaked pod that is filled with black seeds.
They are welcome to self-seed throughout the potager interior borders, but I always harvest some of the seeds for culinary purposes, and I like the dried pods for winter floral arrangements. Poppies are also allowed to self-seed in the potager borders, as are dill, calendula, borage, and cilantro because any surplus can easily be removed. I do deadhead all the violas, which are great self-seeders because I’ve found that the orange ones I want for my edges rarely come back orange, and if I allow them to self-seed then my paths are filled with seedlings that must be removed. I deadhead chives and garlic chives for the same reason.
In the flower gardens, deadheading is generally the rule until a few weeks before frost. Then, the last blooms of cleome are allowed to set and drop seed. I only grow the pristine white “Helen Campbell” variety, so I don’t have to worry about cross-pollinating, and none of my neighbors grow it. The tall verbena on a stick can also self seed because it seems to always come true. Because I use a fairly narrow color palette and prefer specific varieties, I’d rather start the other annuals each season with fresh seed, rather than risk ending up with a lot of muddy pinks or magentas. However, if you want self-seeding annuals like larkspur and bachelor buttons, don’t deadhead all the flowers, but allow some to make seed. And that, I hope, is the end of that!