Biting the Bullet

All the gardening experts recommend the ‘Chelsea chop’, cutting back perennials to improve their flowering performance. So called because it is carried out in late May, around the time of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, it can be done on a wide range of perennials, including phlox, sedum and penstemon. Pruning all the stems on a clump can delay the flowering of perennials by four to six weeks, or just half of them, which spreads the plant’s flowering over a longer period. In both cases, the plants should become bushier and less likely to flop as sedum in particular is wont to do, come early autumn.

I have been aware of this for a number of years but have been reluctant to carry it out, mainly because a nice rounded clump of sedum like the one above, for example, is a thing of beauty, a thing of beauty it seems criminal to deface. However, striving to improve my gardening skills, I knew I should listen to those more experienced, so a couple of years ago I made my first tentative chop – very tentative, as only a few stems were cut – and last year I bravely aimed for perhaps half of them, but my clumps of sedum were still unruly a few months later. This year, without garden visitors expected towards the end of June, it seemed a good opportunity to go the whole way and immerse myself fully in the whole Chelsea chopping experience.

Here is the same sedum after the chop (I wonder if it feels the same as I did when the Golfer cut my hair last week…?):

And a clump of phlox, before and after:

I then chopped around the garden as appropriate, and time will tell if the intervention has made a noticeable difference. When I ran out of choppables, chopping was replaced by trimming and deadheading. In particular, a large Fatsia japonica was slimmed down and the yellowing leaves which seem to appear at this time of year were removed. Twiggy deadwood on an adjacent honeysuckle was also removed, and with the renewed vigour enjoyed by another honeysuckle after it was cut virtually to the ground last year to remove a mammoth aphid infestation, I am now considering doing the same to the others,  rejuvenating them and removing their tangle of woody stems.

But that’s another story, as is what else I saw when atop the ladder…

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26 Responses to Biting the Bullet

  1. bcparkison says:

    Do show us how it turns out. The idea sounds inviting but not sure I would be brave enough to try. Not sure I have the right plants any way.

    • Cathy says:

      I will Beverley, and I shall certainly revert to a laissez-faire approach next year if there is not a noticeable difference!

  2. Your sedum is a thing of beauty. Mine is only about 8 inches tall, and there is rarely any flopping in August. Must be a different variety altogether.

    • Cathy says:

      It was called Sedum spectabile but is now classified as Hylotelephium spectabile and grows to around 45cm. US common name ice plant, I think

  3. tidalscribe says:

    I hadn’t heard of the Chelsea cut till Friday on gardener’s world.

  4. Chloris says:

    I know I should do it but it seems such vandalism to chop things down just when they look good and you are expecting visitors. You are right this year would have been a good chance. You let the Golfer cut your hair? How trusting. I’ve had a go at my own and it’s probably just as well that I’m not going anywhere.

    • Cathy says:

      The Golfer had been sponsored to the tune of £300+ to have his hair cut just prior to lockdown and was being accused of running off with the sponsorship money, so we invested in some clippers and I did his. He was most reluctantant to cut mine but I told him he couldn’t go far wrong with a pair of clippers, which is what my hair is usually cut with anyway. It’s not bad at all and I certainly felt like myself again – as you say, few of us are going anywhere very public at the moment

  5. I Chelsea chop about half of the stocks where I work and have done for years. It does them absolutely no harm saves lots of staking. Most of all it ensures that in only doing about half the plants, flowering lasts for about a month thanks to the delayed chopped ones. I had not done it on sedum but they always collapse by autumn so they are on my to do list for this week

  6. Cathy says:

    I have done it with asters and achillea and they were minimally shorter in August. It took several years for me to dare do it too, but once you‘ve done it it doesn‘t seem so bad! Do let us know if it makes any difference with the sedum. 😀

  7. Heyjude says:

    …to be continued I hope. My interest has been piqued. I have penstemons but I cut them back to the ground this spring so I think I will leave them alone now. No flowers yet.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, I will certainly update later – from the comments, everyone who has bitten the bullet has not regretted it

  8. The Chelsea cut for perennials in late May when they are grown and wonderful, I am not able to do it. Cathy this year you have been brave in cutting that divine Sedum, I love it. After making the Chelsea cut to Sedum, you went on with the phlox and the rest of the garden. Cathy please post photos of how the plants you have cut are growing, thank you. So I love the golfer as a hairdresser for Ladies. I’m sure he cut your phenomenal hair. I’m not going to a hairdresser now either. And I also need a good haircut !! Keep you and the golfer safe, Cathy. Take good care of both of you. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

    • Cathy says:

      My hair is very short, Margarita, so it wasn’t difficult with the clippers – but the Golfer has had long hair for years!

    • Cathy tengo el brazo derecho desde debajo de la oreja, la escápula, el hombro, el bíceps, el codo, el brazo, la mano y los dedos llenos de contracturas musculares y con los músculos mal y rígidos. No puedo moverlo y tengo un dolor muy fuerte. Estoy con calmantes. Estoy así desde el día 5. Voy al fisioterapeuta para darme masajes y poco a poco va mejorando, pero tengo para tiempo. Estoy escribiendo esto con la mano izquierda. Yo también tengo el pelo muy corto aunque ahora ha crecido desde el estado de alarma. Todo lo mejor para el golfista y para ti. Saludos muy cariñosos de Margarita.

      • Cathy says:

        Margarita, I am so sorry to hear of your pain and and stiffness and hope that the physiotherapy continues to help. It must be so difficult to write just now so please don’t feel you have to comment on posts you have read and focus on getting better

  9. Pauline says:

    I have cut my Lysimachia and Sedum for quite a number of years now and find it does make a difference. I always used to cut the undergardeners hair for him and also cut my own except for the back which he did for me, I now have to do the back myself, not easy but possible! I’m sure you both now look as smart as your sedum!!

    • Cathy says:

      Good to hear that my blogging friends have found the Chelsea chop worthwhile. Looking at that sedum today, I can confidently say that we look smarter than the sedum as it definitely LOOKS chopped, unlike our hair which just looks short and neatish!

  10. tonytomeo says:

    To me, it is just cutting back. Chelsea has nothing to do with it.

  11. Steve says:

    I would strongly recommend doing the chop on sedums. We have been doing it for years. It also gives you plenty of stock to use as propagation material

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks for confirming that, Steve – I thought too late about using the trimmings as cuttings and had composted them! Did you think any more about hosting EOMV?

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