Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Alchemilla Slaughter time!

Yes, it's that time of year: the Alchemilla mollis is starting to change from bright yellow to mucky brown, and that is the sign that it is seeding, and therefore it's time to get out there and chop it, before it sets seed everywhere around the garden, which means that you will spend the next seven years weeding out the seedlings.

What - hadn't you heard that phrase? "One year seed, seven years weed." That's what they say.

So, Alchemilla - how do we do this, then? There are two ways - well, three really.

1) Carefully dead-head each flowering stalk back to one or two leaves.

2) Chop everything back right to the bone.

Both of those two options have plus points and minus points.

Carefully dead-heading does give a better immediate effect, in that it leaves you with a fair bunch of leaves. But it takes a long, long time to do, if you have any  number of the plants. (And if you have one A.mollis, there is a very good chance that you have a lot of them...)

Chopping right back is quick and easy, but it leaves it looking awful for a couple of weeks, until the new flush of fresh lovely young leaves arrive to give you pretty domes of foliage again.

So the in-between stage, option 3) is to cut back all the flowering stalks right to the base of the plant, but to leave as many of the individual leaves as look fresh and respectable, removing any browned, floppy or tatty ones.

It's easy to get the flowering stalks: if you part the plant in the middle - and most of them have been parted what you might call naturally, by the rain - and trace one of the flowering stems right to the bottom, you will see that it has a number of brown collars around it. So just find all the thick stems with these brown collars, and chop them off as close as you can to the base.

Then go round again, removing tired leaves, but leaving any that seem quite fresh.

Here I am back at the Prairie Beds again, the Alchemilla is just starting to go over, and you can see that the poppies are pretty much done.
Here we are, ten minutes later.

Oh my! What a difference!

I know, it looks all bare and tatty, even though I have exercised option 3 and have left a few of the freshest leaves.

But look! Clumps of red grasses are emerging from being completely smothered.

And within a couple of weeks, they will be looking smart again.

To finish this section, I also removed the fringe of small poppies at the front, as they look so scruffy. We leave the big ones in place to go to seed, the idea being to encourage the biggest and best of them each year.

So there you are, five minute lesson in How To Chop Alchemilla mollis. Basically, just be brave!

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