Deadheading Garden Flowers

How to deadhead plants
Mint Images/ Getty Images


What Does Deadheading Mean?

Deadheading refers to the removal of dead or spent flowers. There are four main reasons for doing this.

  1. First, it simply makes the plant look neater. Dying flowers tend to turn brown and either dry or mushy. This can detract from the look you work so hard to achieve in your garden.
  2. Secondly, removing dead flowers also encourages plants to set even 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, zinnnias, and marigolds,  and many perennial plants will continue to bloom throughout the growing season, if deadheaded. Rudbeckia and Echinacea are good examples of perennials that benefit from deadheading. They will repeat bloom through the season, if kept deadheaded
  1. More importantly, deadheading helps plants direct their energy toward the general health of the plant. Perennial flowers such as Astilbe and Peonies, bloom only once. even with deadheading. However cutting back their flower stalks allows all the plant's energy to be put back into the roots and foliage, allowing it to regain any energy it lost to flowering and making for a hardier plant.
  2. A finally, there are some plants that will self-sow aggressively and deadheading prevents them from forming seed in the first place. Plants like bellflowers, chives and garlic chives can quickly outgrow their space, if allowed to self-sow. Of course, plants become aggressive in different growing conditions, so one gardener's invasive can be another gardener's growing challenge. Sometimes self-sowing is a welcome attribute, as with columbines and butterfly weed.

How to Deadhead Flowers

  • Pruning: For plants with large flowers, like 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 like coleus, where you want to avoid flowers entirely, because you are growing the plants for their colorful leaves.
  • Shearing: When there is a profusion of tiny flowers, as with thread-leaf coreopsis, the best thing to do is 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 much fresher for your having done it. You can often shear two or more times per season.

    Deadheading is one of a gardener's best tools for keeping their garden looking fresh and colorful for the whole growing season and it is actually good for the plants. It can be daunting at first, to prune so many of your plants, but you'll be glad you did.