Deadheading Garden Flowers

Close up tattooed man pruning plants with pruning shears in garden
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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.

Benefits of Deadheading Garden Flowers

There are four main reasons why you should include deadheading as part of your routine garden maintenance:

  • Make the plant look neater. Dying flowers tend to turn brown and either dry or mushy. This can detract from the overall look you've work so hard to achieve in your garden.
  • Encourage plants to set more flower buds. Plants flower in order 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, 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 and making for a generally hardier plant.
  • Prevent seed formation. Some plants 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 plants can be another gardener's growing challenge. Sometimes self-sowing is a welcome attribute, as with columbines and butterfly weed.

How to Deadhead Flowers

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

  • 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  fresher. You can often shear two or more times per season.