How To Do The Chelsea Chop: Complete Guide And Video

How To Do The Chelsea Chop: Complete Guide And Video

What Is The Chelsea Chop?

The Chelsea Chop is a pruning technique that involves pruning or cutting back certain herbaceous perennial plants in late spring or early summer. In the United States, it is recommended to perform the Chelsea Chop between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

The purpose of the Chelsea Chop is to delay the flowering time of the plants and promote sturdier plants. By cutting back the stems of certain plants by about one-third to one-half, you can stimulate lateral growth and encourage the production of more compact and sturdy plants.

(Featured Image: Bee Balm by Joe Giordano)

Why Is It Called The Chelsea Chop?

This method of pruning is called the “Chelsea Chop” because it originated from gardeners and horticulturists who were inspired by the practices observed at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in London. The Chelsea Flower Show is a famous flower show and has been held annually by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) since 1913. The time of the Chelsea Flower Show also lines up with when the Chelsea Chop should be performed.

As this pruning method became more widely known and practiced, it became commonly referred to as the “Chelsea Chop” in reference to its association with the Chelsea Flower Show. The name stuck, and it has since become a recognizable term in the gardening community.

How To Do The Chelsea Chop?

To perform the Chelsea Chop, follow these general steps:

  1. Timing: The Chelsea Chop is typically done in late spring or early summer (sometime around the 3rd week of May is the best time for the Midwest) when the plants have reached a height of about 6 to 12 inches and are actively growing. This is usually around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show in May, but the timing may vary depending on your location and local climate conditions.
  2. Prepare tools: It is always a good idea to use clean and sharp pruning shears or scissors to minimize damage to the plants. Make sure your tools are sterilized to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.
  3. Identify the plants: Select the herbaceous perennial plants that would benefit from the Chelsea Chop. These are typically plants that tend to become leggy, floppy, or produce a single tall stem.
  4. Determine the cutting height: Decide on the desired height to which you want to prune the plants. The general guideline is to cut back the stems by about one-third to one-half of their height. However, you can adjust this based on your preferences and the specific requirements of the plant species or variety.
  5. Make the cuts: Carefully cut or prune the top of the plants just above a pair of healthy leaves or a lateral bud. Make a clean cut at a slight angle to allow water to drain off and reduce the risk of diseases.
  6. Maintain plant care: After the Chelsea Chop, continue to provide proper care for the plants, including watering, fertilizing, and monitoring for pests or diseases. As a general rule, regularly remove any dead or spent flowers to encourage further blooming.

It’s important to note that while the Chelsea Chop can be beneficial for many herbaceous perennials, it’s not suitable for all plants. Some species may not respond well to this pruning technique, or it may impact their flowering time. It’s always recommended to research and understand the specific needs of your plants before performing the Chelsea Chop or consult with local gardening experts for advice.

On Which Plants Can You Use The Chelsea Chop?

The Chelsea Chop technique can be applied to a variety of herbaceous perennial plants. The following list has some common plants that are good candidates for the Chelsea Chop:

  1. Sedum spectabile (Ice plant): Cutting back Sedum spectabile in late spring helps promote branching and prevents the plant from flopping over.
  2. Achillea (Yarrow): Yarrow plants can become tall and leggy. Pruning them by about one-third to one-half their height in late spring encourages compact growth and prolongs the flowering period.
  3. Bee Balm: This native perennial responds well to the Chelsea Chop. Gardeners will often vary their chops on Bee Balm to encourage a longer bloom cycle and more blooms overall.
  4. Aster: Some taller Aster varieties can become top-heavy and require support. By pruning them in late spring, you can create sturdier, more compact plants that produce more flowers.
  5. Chrysanthemum: Certain Chrysanthemum varieties benefit from the Chelsea Chop. Trimming them back by about one-third to one-half their height in late spring promotes bushier growth and extends the flowering season.
  6. Echinacea (Coneflower): The Chelsea Chop can be applied to Echinacea to prevent them from becoming too tall and leggy. Pruning them back in late spring results in more compact plants with increased branching.

It’s important to note that not all plants require or respond well to the Chelsea Chop. Some plants, particularly those with early bloom times, may not be suitable candidates for this technique as it could delay or reduce their flowering. Always research specific plant requirements and consult gardening references or local experts to determine if the Chelsea Chop is appropriate for a particular plant species or variety.

Native asters that make a great option for the chelsea chop in Michigan.

New England Aster G. Mayfield

What Are The Benefits Of The Chelsea Chop?

The Chelsea Chop technique offers several benefits for herbaceous perennial plants in the garden:

  1. Delayed flowering: By performing the Chelsea Chop, you can delay the bloom time of certain plants. This can be advantageous for creating a more extended blooming period throughout the growing season, allowing you to enjoy a flowering display over a longer period of time. If you only Chelsea Chop the front of the clump, you can enjoy a staggered bloom season from a single plant.
  2. Increased branching: Pruning back the stems of plants encourages lateral growth and branching. This results in fuller, bushier plants with strong-growing forms. It can prevent plants from becoming leggy or top-heavy, resulting in a more balanced and aesthetically pleasing appearance.
  3. Sturdier growth: By cutting back the stems, the Chelsea Chop promotes sturdier growth. The plants develop stronger stems that are less likely to flop over, particularly for tall perennials that tend to have weak or elongated stems. Shorter plants enhance the overall appearance and prevent the need for staking or support structures.
  4. Extended plant life: The Chelsea Chop can help rejuvenate and extend the life of perennial plants. By stimulating new growth and preventing plants from becoming overly mature or woody, you can encourage healthier and longer-lasting plants in your garden.
  5. Increased flower production: Pruning back certain plants through the Chelsea Chop technique can result in increased flower production. More lateral branches and shorter stems often lead to a numerous flowers on a more compact plant, creating a more vibrant and abundant display.
  6. Easier maintenance: By promoting compact growth and preventing flopping or sprawling, the Chelsea Chop can make the maintenance of herbaceous perennials easier. The plants are more manageable in terms of watering, staking, deadheading, and general care.

It’s important to note that the benefits of the Chelsea Chop may vary depending on the specific plant species, growing conditions, and proper timing of the technique. It’s always recommended to research and understand the requirements of the plants in your garden before applying the Chelsea Chop or consult with local gardening experts for advice specific to your region.

A small patch of purple coneflowers, which are native to Northern Michigan.

Coneflowers by Hardwick Hall

Can You Use The Chelsea Chop On Native Perennials?

Yes, the Chelsea Chop technique can be applied to native perennials as well. The suitability of the Chelsea Chop for a native plant garden depends on the specific plant species and their growth habits. While it’s important to preserve native plant populations, the Chelsea Chop can be used as a maintenance technique to promote healthier growth and give the appearance of a well-tended perennial garden.

When considering the Chelsea Chop for native perennials, it’s essential to research and understand the natural growth habits and requirements of the specific species you are working with. Some native perennials naturally have compact growth habits or do not require extensive pruning, while others clumps of perennials may benefit from the Chelsea Chop to prevent flopping or stimulate new shoots and flower buds.

Best Native Plants For The Chelsea Chop

While there are a wide variety of herbaceous native perennials that are suitable for the Chelsea Chop, we have had a lot of success with these specifically:

  1. Coneflower (echinacea purpurea)
  2. Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium)
  3. Golden Rod (Solidago)
  4. Phlox (phlox paniculata)
  5. New England Asters (Aster novae-angliae)

You should select native perennials that are well-suited to your region and growing conditions. Native plants are adapted to the local environment and often require less maintenance than non-native species. By choosing native perennials that are naturally suited to your area, you can reduce the need for extensive pruning or interventions like the Chelsea Chop.

A field of drought resistant black eye Susans sit behind a colorful purple verbena flower. These flowers are good candidates for the Chelsea Chop.

Summer Flowers by R. Larue

Learn More About Gardening With Native Plants

Native plants are a great addition to any landscaping. They offer year-round interest, numerous ecological benefits, and great beauty to your yard. The Chelsea Chop is a good method for keeping native gardens pruned and maintained. To learn more about gardening with native plants, check out these articles: