Cut Flowers,  Gardens

How to Deadhead Flowers

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Are you growing a garden but not sure when and how to start deadheading flowers? Here are some how-to deadhead flowers, basics for beginners.

Deadheading is a gardening chore that must be done regularly throughout the growing season. Deadheading is nothing more than the removal of dead or spent flowers from living plants. It’s good for your plants and means more flowers for you.

What is Deadheading Flowers?

Deadheading flowers means removing old growth and seed heads to encourage healthy new growth and more blooms.

Benefits of Deadheading

There are four main reasons to include deadheading as part of your routine garden maintenance:

  • Makes the plants look neater: Dying flowers tend to turn brown and either dry or mushy. This can detract from the overall look you’ve worked so hard to achieve in your garden.
  • Encourage plants to set more flower buds: Plants flower to set seed. If their flowers are constantly being removed before they mature and go to seed, many plants, although not all, will simply set more. This will extend the length of the blooming season. Most annual flowers, such as petunias, zinnias, and marigolds, as well as many perennial plants, will continue to bloom throughout the growing season—if they are deadheaded. Rudbeckia and Echinacea are good examples of perennials that benefit from deadheading. They will repeat-bloom through the season if regularly deadheaded.
  • Help plants conserve energy: Removing dead blooms allows the plant to direct its energy toward improving its general health. Perennial flowers, such as Astilbe and peonies, bloom only once per year, even with deadheading. However, cutting back the flower stalks allows all the plant’s energy to be put back into its roots and foliage, allowing it to regain any energy it lost to flowering. The result is an overall hardier plant.
  • Prevent seed formation: Some plants self-sow aggressively, and deadheading prevents them from forming seed in the first place. Plants such as bellflowers, chives, and garlic chives can quickly outgrow their space if allowed to self-sow. Of course, self-sowing can be a welcome attribute with desirable plants such as columbines and butterfly weed.

When is the Best Time to Deadhead Flowers?

When the appearance of a plant starts to deteriorate, that is the best time to deadhead spent flowers.

How often a particular plant needs to be deadheaded will depend on how long the flowers last. This can range from one day to several weeks depending on the plant type and variety.

Why Should We Deadhead Flowers?

In general, when flowers fade, plants lose their beauty. Depending on the plant type, removing dead flower heads can greatly improve flowering performance.

On some plant varieties, if dead blooms remain, the plant focuses too much energy on them which thereby reduces flower production. When plants complete flowering, plants form seeds.

Grab a set of pruners and cut the flower back just above a set of leaf nodes. Which means, the focus is on seed production as opposed to flowering. Thus, deadheading flowers as soon as blooms start fading help promote a second bloom.

The deadheading process redirects a plant’s energy from seed production to root and vegetative growth. Therefore, deadheading flowers is important to do because it keeps plants healthy and blooming.

As an aside, deadheading flowers isn’t just beneficial to plants. It is also beneficial to the gardener because removing spent flowers can be a very relaxing and therapeutic process.

Should I Deadhead All Plants As Flowers Fade?

The answer is no and largely depends on the type of flowers you are growing. Certain varieties benefit from deadheading, while others do not. For example, salvias and catmint benefit from deadheading. They can get a second set of blooms if you remove spent flowers.

But others like columbine, hollyhocks, foxglove, and forget-me-nots like to self-sow and benefit from leaving them be in the garden. So it is important for the gardener to evaluate whether a plant requires deadheading or not before removing spent blooms.

How to Deadhead Flowers?

There are a few common methods for deadheading garden flowers. Choose the best technique for your garden based on the type and size of the plant and the number of flowers it produces:

  • Pruning: For plants with large flowers, such as daylilies and coneflowers, the easiest way to deadhead is with your hand pruners. If there are unopened flower buds lower on the flower stalk, just remove the dead flowers on top. If the whole length of the flower stalk has finished blooming, remove the entire stalk at the base of the plant.
  • Pinching: Some flower stalks are thin and soft enough to simply pinch off between your fingers. Pinching is quick and convenient, especially with plants such as coleus, where you want to avoid flowers entirely because you are growing the plants for their colorful leaves.1
  • Shearing: When there is a profusion of tiny flowers, as with thread-leaf coreopsis, it’s best to wait until more of the flowers are past their prime and then simply shear the entire plant back by about one-third. You will lose a few flowers in the process, but the plant will quickly recover and set a whole new flush of blooms. It will also look fresher. You can often shear two or more times per season.
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Deadheading is a great way to get more flowers and improve the health of your plants. Now that you know how to deadhead flowers you have everything you need to have continuous blooms throughout the season.

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