Gardening Tips

The Chelsea Chop v 2.0 Grow-how tips for May


All of a sudden the days just aren’t long enough for all the intense gardening jobs pressing for our attention! I keep making lists, losing the lists, making new lists, going outside to do something on the list, and getting distracted by at least five other jobs on the way..

But I won’t miss out my Chelsea-chopping, potting on my veg crops, and addressing the mealy bug problem on my crab apples..

Let’s go Chelsea chopping!

What with the great flower-show just round the corner, Caroline is by now more interested in Chelsea Shopping than Chelsea Chopping….but can I HIGHLY recommend the latter occupation to you!  It’s a sort of pruning, really, done in the second half of May.  Do it a bit later, in June, and it’s known as the Hampton Hack – I wonder why??!

Here’s what it’s all about:

Dozens of herbaceous perennials are putting on masses of growth now which often causes them to flop once they are laden with flowers, especially in a windy spot.

Hyelotelephium (sedum) can get awfully floppy

So what you do is grab the stems with one hand and chop them off with the secateurs held in the other hand, down to about half their height. BOOM! It feels brutal, but it will make them flower a little later and at a much sturdier height, require less staking etc. The prunings can go on the compost heap. Or turn them into softwood cuttings, maybe……….

This Anthemis is getting the Chelsea-chop!

I’ve done it for years and it really works! 

And here’s a great variation of the ‘Chelsea Chop’ to give you flowers ALL SUMMER LONG.   Cut back about a third of this season’s shoots by half.  In a fortnight’s time, do the same to another third of the shoots you’d left untouched before.  Leave the last third unpruned – they will flower first.  Then the first lot you cut back will come into flower, a little lower and sturdier.  And then the last lot. 

Or how about snipping down some shoots, and leaving others to flower at their normal time? It’s another great way of ensuring a really long flowering period

Try any of these versions of your Chelsea Chop with PhloxEchinacea, Rudbeckia fulgidaHelenium, Anthemis (chamomile), Nepeta (catmint), Argyranthemum, (marguerite), Campanula (bellflower), Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed), Coreopsis (tickseed) and lots of others. I shall be selectively snipping away at lots of my HPs this year, for sure. I made a short video of the process – link below.

Perfect pots for crops

During the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get to my veg patch proper, and tried growing vegetables and salads in pots instead – and it worked amazingly well!  Growing them in containers gives you so much more control over the weeds, pest and disease problems that veg-growing seems to attract.  The only problem is that decorative pots have gone up in price along with everything else, and ones that you use just for veg-growing can be a real headache to store when out of use.  You may well want to use your best pots for flowering plants through the summer, anyway. 

Growing veg in pots really works

That’s where foldaway ones come in super-handy.  You can use old compost sacks, thick carrier bags, potato-sacks – almost anything as long as it’s got drainage holes. My concern with these is that they are not very sturdy, and I worry that the roots will be damaged if they move around or worse still, fall over. 

These Vigoroot pots are the perfect answer

In our shop we have some fantastic recycled Vigoroot plant pots that Caroline is very evangelical about.  Not only do they sit firmly on the ground when filled with compost, they promote extra-strong rooting by sort of ‘air-pruning them’.  At the end of the season, you wash them, dry them and fold them away for next year– simples! They look a whole heap nicer than a potato-sack or, dare I say it, a Growbag too! Definitely something worth considering when you pot on your veg seedlings or buy your veg plugs for the summer harvest.

Flowers with form

Wandering around the garden this morning I was thinking about spring flowers.  Not Earth-shattering news, obviously.  But I was thinking not about their colours this time, or their scent, but about the ‘form’ of them.  

The exquisite form of a Nectaroscordum flower – deeply satisfying

Some are just the most exquisite and satisfying shape and deserve their place in the garden for that reason alone. Polygonatum (Solomon’s seal), Nectaroscordum siculum (Sicilian honey garlic – ‘common name’? Sounds pretty exceptional to me!), Euphorbias………I’m not talking here about stems or foliage, nor about the rare and exotic specialties that Laura goes in for, but common spring garden flowers that have a uniquely beautiful architecture to them.

The flowers of Solomon’s seal just have it, don’t they?

Are there more plants like this around in spring than at other times of the year? Do you have some favourites that fit into this category? I’d love to hear about them.

Gardening shorts

  • My husband Nigel has got a book called ‘The Miracle of Vinegar’ by Aggie Mackenzie and Emma Marsden, and there is hardly an activity in life that can’t be improved with vinegar, apparently!
Apparently we need vinegar for almost every activity in our lives……!

The book doesn’t say much about gardening, but vinegar can be massively useful there too – for cleaning pots and tools, deterring pests, and killing weeds (much better for the environment than proprietary herbicides too).  I’m certain to get mealy bugs on my espalier’d crab apples this year, and will use a spray of apple cider vinegar (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) every couple of weeks to get rid of them.

  • When you’re sowing carrot seed, always sow them sparingly to avoid having to thin them later.  The smell attracts a wretched pest called the Carrot Root Fly, which can destroy your crop quicker than you can say Bugs Bunny.
  • A friend of ours brought us round some delectable rhubarb the other day – what a tart it made!  Remember to harvest rhubarb by pulling it from the base rather than cutting it which can allow rot to set in.  Never take more than half the available stalks, so that the plant can build up its strength for next year. 
Pull off the rhubarb stalks, don’t cut them

Here is the link to my short video on how to Chelsea Chop at will.

A little heads-up – As previously mentioned, it’s Chelsea Flower Show next week and the Growbags will be partying there next Saturday! For that reason, we will be changing our blog publication from Saturday to Sunday, to include our reactions to the Greatest Show on Earth!

NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

5 replies on “The Chelsea Chop v 2.0 Grow-how tips for May”

I tried spraying weeds with white vinegar, but it took about three goes to affect little seedling weeds. I don’t think it would do much to tap roots like dandelions.

Hi Barbara, Elaine here. Thank you for writing in. Yes, I think like many of these more ecological treatments, they don’t work as well or as quickly as the chemicals we used in the past. All we can do is feel better about ourselves and our relationship with the planet while we slog on, can’t we!

I used a mix of vinegar and common table salt to kill dandelions and grass from the drive and pavement. the vinegar kills the leaves, and the salt the roots

Thank you for your brilliant blog.
I have used the wonderful Vigoroot pots for a couple of years for growing sweetcorn (3 plants to a pot) to keep it off the allotment – where the badgers usually strip the lot just before it’s ripe. I’m also just plucking up my courage to do a Chelsea chop on my perennials.

Anna that’s marvellous to get such a good endorsement of the vigoroot pots. It’s Caroline here and I love mine. They’ve proved perfect this year for bringing my dahlias out of hibernation. The fact that they weigh just about NOTHING has made it much easier to carry them in and out this spring, when I was hardening them off. (Not sure the Highland climate would be suitable for sweetcorn? Especially for me who is NO expert)
Yes I agree – the Chelsea Chop is not for the squeamish – especially up here – you do wonder if they’ll ever recover! Thank you so much for leaving a comment – very best wishes to you

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