31 January 2013

Dead Heads

If your aim is to have a 'wildlife' friendly garden one piece of advice is to not deadhead.

For some of us more slovenly gardeners that comes as good news because we only chop the dead bits off of plants when our families make subtle hints about the untidiness of the garden. We can claim we are developing a wildlife friendly area that is the only haven for miles around for local wildlife, and all those brown sticks are 'good', but eventually even we concede and we wrap up warm and venture out to wield the secateurs.

I was wondering how banning deadheading would benefit wildlife.

The first reason that comes to mind is to let birds eat the exposed seeds, such as in spent sunflowers. But when I look out of my window I don't see hordes of colourful finches feeding off the decaying flower heads left in the garden. The reality isn't quite as bucolic as the experts suggest. 

I wonder if its not the seed eating birds we, in our laziness, are helping but tiny insects that might exist inside. If you are a serious gardener who wants to grow beautiful healthy flowers you would cut off any flower as soon as it started to droop. This not only encourages the growth of more flowers but prevents pests and diseases getting hold of your precious plants. Which gives me the impression there are indeed little mites and larval insects living in the dark of the old sepals.

Have you ever seen a blue tit or wren peck away at seemingly nothing and thought, 'what are they eating'? Maybe whatever they can see, but we can't, also exists in dead flower heads.

To deadhead or not is a point of contention. It probably comes down to which version of  Eden you have in your head. If it is a well-managed flower garden then you would definitely deadhead. But if you worry about your carbon footprint, whether you are recycling enough, and the evils of industrial agriculture then your Eden probably looks a bit like Garden65 at the moment.