By MaryAnn Fink
LIFE Exhibit Curator
St. Louis summer has set into something of a routine at Pollinator Junction at The National Museum of Transportation. The sweet yellow daisies of lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) have just begun to get tired. They are beginning to lean outward from the center of the plant’s crown/base. Time for action!
The first flowers have started to fade and a few seed heads are forming. This is the perfect time to apply the “cutting edge” treatment called “undercutting” or “stacking” foliage to get her back into shape! Even just the weight over time can cause leaning. When the “lean” begins and before heavy rains, it’s time to take sharp scissors in hand and literally cut the edges away hence “cutting edge” treatment.
To do this, I set the bottom blade of the scissors on the ground and let the top blade slide into the foliage without pressing down (or trying to catch every flower stem ). I begin cutting a circle about 4 ” from the center of the crown. Start right at the place where the density of the foliage decreases and flower stems begin to visually dominate. Cut like you would do when cutting a stretch of fabric or wrapping paper, holding the bottom blade to the ground and continuing the scissoring motion.
It’s an easy and quick process of snipping upward and catching the falling flower stems. In a minute, the under foliage begins to refluff without the weight of the stems, the center refills with the stems now able to stand upright and the overall appearance is tidy and fresh.
Yes, a few buds are lost in the process and goldfinch will have to watch where I am going with those still yet to ripen seed heads. Fortunately we have several informal plantings on the property where these trimmings can lay and dry and still be enjoyed!
It has been my experience that this “cutting edge” process also can “bee” life extending for this notably short lived Missouri native perennial. Slowing the flower cycle down, and not allowing EVERY flower to form seeds, appears to increase longevity of the mother plant. Her life can be extended by a year or more if rightly planted and weather conditions cooperate. A plant’s life is quite different when not in an evolving prairie but in a cultivated space!
This undercut method of stacking the foliage back up stimulates new growth and reflowering. It is useful with many perennials that normally take on that bare center/spokes of a wheel growth habit such as salvia and zizia.
The pollen of this coreopsis attracts butterflies and skippers, nectar moths, “too busy to care about us” bumble bees, small bees and flower beetles.
This stewardship of the cultivated land is a funny thing. It is a cooperative arrangement by which I (we) change the environment, and then choose to what depth we participate. Yet in all honesty, I (we) have fairly limited control of helping them survive and great potential for contributing to their demise. I consider this a precious and delicate relationship.
This LIFE Exhibit preserves a promise. The plants grow and I return to them. Each day we continue, to “bee” come better teachers of the pollinary process!