Deadheading Plants: What is it, Why You Should Do it, and How It Helps Your Garden

Deadheading Plants: What is it, Why You Should Do it, and How It Helps Your Garden

By Michael Jenkins

Flowers are the jewels of our garden, and helping our flowering plants produce many healthy blooms is a goal for any ornamental garden. There are a number of things plants need to flower and look their best—good soil, the right amount of water, proper sun and shade—but active care by an attentive gardener is also important. In this blog we’re going to learn a bit about deadheading—what it is, how deadheading helps your plants, and how you can best do it in your own garden. It’s a surprisingly complex topic (although simple in application) so let’s dig in and explore this gardening skill.

What is Deadheading?   

Our friends at the Michigan State University Extension said it so well we have to quote them: “The primary reason flowers exist is to produce more flowers. In general, once a flower blooms and dies it forms seeds for the next generation.” However, for many gardeners their flowers produce seeds a-plenty in season and they’d prefer more flowers before they do. Deadheading is the process  of pruning away aging flowers before they go to seed, thus encouraging the plant to produce more flowers for its reproductive/seed-spreading cycle.

Deadheading must be balanced against the plant’s life-cycle needs. It can be helpful to the plant to produce seeds, and it can help gardeners by providing seeds for next year and help wildlife by providing a food source.

How to Deadhead Flowering Plants

Deadheading is simple in principle: we cut back the flowers on the plant before they run to seed in order to encourage the plants to produce more flowers. In practice, it’s a bit trickier: while cutting away the flowers is almost always the goal, the best way to do that varies pretty widely depending on the flowers in question and what you’re hoping to get out of them. You may need to ask your local garden club or extension office for advice about your particular plants, but here are some guidelines for deadheading popular garden flowers:

  • In general, annuals respond positively to deadheading. Perennials need to be treated on a species-by-species basis for best results.
  • Some flowering plants do not respond well to deadheading. These include hollyhock, foxglove, lobelia, forget-me-not, impatiens, and petunias. Deadheading these can either inhibit flower production for the next season or is just unnecessary as the plants are self-cleaning and drop flowers on their own.

  • Plants you should deadhead include marigolds, snapdragons, zinnias, geranium, daisies, dahlias, cosmos, and canna lilies. Despite being some of the longest-lasting perennials, roses and lavender can benefit from deadheading if you want more blooms.
  • Deadheading, like all pruning, should be done with clean, sharp shears or pruners. This helps the plant recover more quickly and prevents spreading infection or diseases from plant to plant. Taking care of your garden toolsis key in deadheading successfully.
  • That having been said, deadheading isn’t pruning per se. Deadheading most plants involves removing the flower and only the flower, either just below the bloom itself or by the closest junction of leaves. In general, deadheading involves removing the least possible, while a true pruning reshapes the plant.

  • Keep an eye on the weather and on growing conditions when planning your deadheading. During times of extreme weather or wen plants are under stress, it’s probably best to avoid deadheading as it can put extra strain on an already stressed plant.

Stop deadheading in the autumn in order to allow the plant to run to seed and finish its seasonal cycle. This is important for the health of the plant and may impact the next season’s propagation of flowers.

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