For many flowering plants, deadheading is desirable but optional. For roses, however, deadheading is a crucial part of routine plant care—and not only for aesthetic reasons. Removing the spent and withered flowers encourages repeat-flowering roses to bloom again. Almost all modern roses (which includes any roses bred since 1867) are repeat-flowering or repeat-blooming so most likely roses in your yard should be deadheaded as needed.
The time it takes to deadhead a rose plant varies greatly. While a 4-foot hybrid tea rose or a compact Knock Out rose bush can be deadheaded in under 15 minutes, a tall climbing rose, or a large rose bush can take an hour or more. The number of spent flowers or flowering heads to remove also factors into the time requirement.
Why Deadhead Roses
Appearance is one reason for deadheading roses but there is more to it from the botanical perspective. If you don’t remove the spend flowers, two things may happen. If the flower was pollinated, the plant will produce a rose hip below the flower that is packed with seeds, signaling to the plant that it has done its job by blooming once and producing offspring. This prevents the formation of new buds in the same growing season. In many modern roses the petals are so large that insects cannot get to the pollen inside the flower and pollinate it but to ensure a repeated bloom it is still a recommended to remove the spent flowers.
If the flower has not been pollinated, it will just dry and fall off.
When to Deadhead Roses
You can remove the flowers as soon as they are wilted or withered. The longer you wait, the looser the petals become and fall off with the slightest motion.
Continue your deadheading routine after each flush of flowers and throughout the entire summer but stop deadheading a few weeks before the first frost date. Deadheading produces more new growth that is vulnerable to cold weather.
Equipment / Tools
- Sharp, clean pair of hand shears or secateurs
- Gardening gloves that cover hands and forearms
- Bucket to collect the clippings
Deadheading is done at two stages: first the removal of any spent blooms on a flowering head, and second the removal of the entire spent flowering head.
Removing Faded Flowers
Cut Spent Flowers at the Base
Cut an individual spent flower from a flowering head or flower cluster at the base, where the flower joins the stem. Leave any remaining buds or flowers that still look fresh and appealing untouched.
Deadheading Established Roses
Identify the Cut Location
After all the flowers in a flowering head are done blooming, it is time to remove the entire flowering head. To do this, you need to determine where to make the cut. Most hybrid tea roses usually have one or two 3-leaflet leaves immediately below the flower and lower on the stem two or more 5-leaflet leaves. Identify a 5-leaf set that is facing outwards, which is the direction in which you want the new shoot to grow.
When you’ve found a 5-leaf set, also look for a small dark spot where the leaf set and the shoot join. This is a bud eye from which a new stem will grow into a flower. The location where you make the cut should be just above that bud eye. As the bud eye is usually located very closely to the leaf set you are after, it should not be too difficult to find.
Cut about ¼ inch above the 5-leaflet set and in a way so that at least two 5-leaflet leaves remain on each shoot.
Make the Cut
Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle and not straight. The angle helps water from precipitation or watering to run off quickly and dry and prevents bacteria or fungi to grow on moist exposed plant tissue.
Deadheading Newly Planted Roses
Identify the Cut Location
With one exception, the method of deadheading newly planted roses is the same as for established roses. Instead of removing the spent flowering head above the uppermost 5-leaflet leaf on a stem, identify the uppermost 3-leaflet leaf for the location of the cut. Removing more foliage from a young rose is detrimental to its ability to produce food and grow.
Make the Cut
Cut the stem ¼ inch above the first 3-leaflet leaf at a 45-degree angle, as described in Step 2 for established roses above.
When deadheading, leave the foliage of the rose plant untouched, unless it is diseased. Leaves are essential for photosynthesis, which means more flowers and healthier rose canes and a stronger plant overall. However, as deadheading your roses makes you take a very close look at the plant, it lets you identify any problems with the rose. such as pests and diseases, leaf discoloration due to nutrient deficiency, early so you can take prompt action.
What Is the Proper Way to Deadhead Roses? Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.