The Chelsea Chop: advice and instructions

Tiffany Daneff / 08 June 2015

Tiffany Daneff explains the Chelsea Chop, a way to get more flowers in your border.



It’s very much time for the Chelsea Chop but I keep wandering into the garden and looking at the happy heleniums and sturdy sedums and thinking NO!

What is the Chelsea Chop?

For those who don’t know, the idea of the Chop is that you cut down flowering stems of herbaceous perennials by a third to a half in late May/early June just before they flower. (You see now why I find this so very hard to do.) This delays flowering encouraging the plants to make multiple new side shoots.

This means the plants will stay tidier, need less staking and when the flowers come they will be smaller, but there will loads more of them. Chelsea Flower Show usually happens around the third week of May – hence the easily memorable name.

A Hampton Court Chop too?

There’s a Hampton Court Chop too, which happens, like the show, in the first week of July. I always remember because it nearly always falls on my birthday.

It makes so much sense to cut back now before plants get leggy and out of control. You can play with it too, cutting back some clumps (if you have more than one of the same plant) but not all, so that you extend the flowering season. Or try cutting back half of the stems at the front of the clump. Or you could use secateurs and cut every other stem. It’s very much something to experiment with.

So, you can see how very sensible an idea it is. But, as I say, it’s all great in theory but just you step outside, secateurs in your pocket and shears in hand, with the sun shining and the bees buzzing and the joy of early summer in your heart and see if you can bear to hack into the plump new growth. (Okay, hort pedants, it would be best done on a dull day with some promise of rain or at least a night damp which will give plants a quicker recovery.)

This picture shows my asters last year. They were new in so I didn’t chop before flowering and you can see that the clumps are already splitting apart. I shall try Chelsea Chopping them this year. (Fingers crossed!)

Plants to try:

  • Sedum
  • Helenium
  • Solidago
  • Echinacea
  • Coreopsis
  • Phlox
  • Asters
  • Anthemis tinctoria

Plants NOT to try:

Absolutely do not attempt this on plants that flower only once such as iris or peonies or plants whose whole purpose is their height and their elegant flowering spires. You’ll just end up with sturdy when you want sylph-like.

PS If you have the heart to do it, remember to water plants well afterwards.

PPS If you’re super keen and want to be properly au fait with the system you should read Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s book The Well-Tended Perennnial Garden, Timber Press, £25

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