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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: 'Chelsea chop' prolongs flowering

The Chelsea chop method can be used on substantial clumps of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), Monarda (bee balm), Heliopsis, Echinacea and similar plants.

Dear Helen: Are you familiar with something called the “Chelsea chop”? I heard the term used recently, but did not pick up any of the information around it, except that it had something to do with gardening.


The Chelsea chop is a method for pruning some perennials to prolong flowering. It can be used on substantial clumps of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), Monarda (bee balm), Heliopsis, Echinacea and similar plants.

In mid to late May (around the time of the famous Chelsea flower show), as flower buds begin to form, either the front half of the stems or the stems around the perimeter of the clump are cut down by one-third to one-half, making cuts above growing points at leaf junctures.

The pruning is followed by a mulching with compost, and regular watering. The cut stems will re-grow to bloom around six weeks later.

Avoid this practice in consecutive years on any one plant, lest it become weakened.

Dear Helen: I’d appreciate any tips you might have to offer on growing better shelling pea vines. Mine are all right, but I’d like stronger, more productive plants.


To keep upgrading the quality of plantings done every year, it is helpful to do a trial planting of a new variety now and then, to compare with the variety you’ve been in the habit of growing.

As with almost all plantings, a strong and productive outcome in peas begins with soil that is reasonably fertile, rich in organic matter, and efficient at retaining moisture while draining efficiently of excess water.

A layer around four cm deep of a nourishing compost, a dusting of lime, and a slow-release, balanced fertilizer are the materials I incorporate into the soil prior to planting.

As the vines begin to develop, a light cultivation alongside the plant bases with a pronged cultivator brings fresh supplies of air to nitrogen-fixing bacteria on the plant roots. This enhances growth in the planting.

As flowering begins, a top dressing of compost will further boost the health and productivity in the vines as it also enhances moisture retention in the soil.

I give tomatoes and squash plants a similar boost with layers of compost as they begin flowering.

Dear Helen: I always have cucumber, pumpkin and squash plants in my summer garden and, inevitably, “volunteer” plants of their type appear in May — from seeds in the odd discarded or missed fruit or from vegetable waste dug into vegetable plots. My question: Do you recommend leaving these self-sown plants to grow and produce edible fruits?


Your plants are in the Cucurbitacae family, which also includes melons.

Whether or not it is wise to let plants in this family grow and produce fruits from self-sown seeds depends on the source of those seeds; that is, the varieties and their fruits that you grew in the previous year.

If you grew hybrid varieties, any resulting plants and their fruits will not have the same qualities as the parent cross. They will revert to ancestral traits from the two parents — traits that may or may not be pleasing, or safe.

In open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties, within each type of vegetable, for instance cucumbers, unless you have grown only one variety, cross-pollination can occur, resulting in the formation of seeds that will in turn produce plants, and fruits, with unpredictable qualities. Those qualities will depend upon whatever ancestral traits are reverted to.

The concern is that the reversion process could involve inclusion of a bitter, possibly toxic chemical that was present in ancestral species of these plants.


View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet Wednesday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall, behind Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Entrance is off Lyall St. Barry Willoughby will present “Gardening with Dahlias.” The evening will include a judged mini-show of exhibits from members’ gardens. Drop-in fee $5 for non-members.

Plant sale. A Garden Babies for Birthright plant sale will be held on Saturday, May 25, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Church, 2060 Haultain in Oak Bay. Perennials, flowering shrubs, a large selection of heirloom tomato plants, irresistible prices.

Plantaholics sale. Interesting and unusual plants from local propagators will be sold at Robin Denning’s Brentwood Bay Nursery, 1395 Benvenuto Ave. on Saturday, May 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Information at [email protected].

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