Deadheading scissors for shearing lying on a tree bark

How to Deadhead Flowers 101: The What and Why + Methods

If you want a pretty garden full of magical blooms, you need to spend some time taking care of it properly. The flowers usually stay in bloom for a short but beautiful period. However, if you want them to reach this state, you need to perform several gardening operations. The most important is deadheading, as it’s vital for the beauty of your flowers.

Pruning a yellow rose with black scissors

Image source: Max Pixel

What does it mean to deadhead flowers?

Deadheading is the operation that involves removing those dead and wilted flowers of a plant. This is necessary if you want the flowers to keep blooming throughout the entire season. Dead flowers suffocate the plant, as they still consume nutrients and don’t allow it to grow. Therefore, you cannot have other fresh flowers if the wilted ones are still hanging around.

Why should you deadhead flowers?

The first reason is purely aesthetic. After they die, flowers get an unpleasant aspect. They start wilting, turn an ugly brown color, and make the entire plant look bad. Therefore, deadheading is essential for a pretty garden. Moreover, it helps the plant get bushier and have more flowers.

Usually, removing a flower before it reaches maturity helps the plant grow even more blooms. Therefore, if you deadhead it, its blooms will continue growing throughout the entire season. This applies to perennials, as well as to annuals. This is a great idea to prolong the latter’s otherwise short life.

Deadheading makes plants healthier, too. When a flower disappears from a plant’s stem, it no longer has to use that energy that was meant for it. Instead, it directs it back into the stem, towards the leaves and the root, so it gets sturdier.

In the end, the last advantage is the fact that deadheading prevents self-sowing. This is quite a bad thing, as most plants spread their seeds aggressively, and can easily turn invasive. By deadheading, you prevent the formation of those seeds in the first place. Make sure you know which plants you want to allow to self-sow, to avoid future trouble.

What flowers to deadhead

Before proceeding to cut flowers all over your garden, you should know whose blooms will get sturdier if you perform some deadheading. The operation is perfect for more exotic flowers, like bleeding hearts, delphinium, or lupine, but there are many other flowers you can try it on.

Salvia and lavender, for instance, thrive really well after deadheading. They are bushy plants with dozens of flowers, and removing the wilted ones will make way for many others. You can easily fit foxgloves and heliotropes in the same category. The operation is good for regular plants with single flowers, like roses, coneflowers, or cosmos.

Deadheading a rhododendron in a garden

Image source: Flickr

How to deadhead flowers

If you want to learn how to deadhead flowers, you should be familiar with all the practices that are involved in the process. There are three techniques you can use, and you should choose them based on the plants you are going to deadhead.

Pruning

Pruning means cutting parts of the plant with the help of special gardening tools, such as scissors or snips. By using these tools, you remove those dead flowers that prevent your plant from growing. Before doing the operation, study the plant carefully.

If there are some flower buds growing lower on the step, and they still haven’t opened yet, cut off those flowers from the top of the stem. If all flowers on the stem have already bloomed, you can cut those at the base.

Pinching

Other plants have less sturdy flowers which grow in pretty soft and mild blooms. Therefore, you no longer need to cut them off with special tools, as pinching them with your fingers is more than enough. This operation is quick, and you can do it any time, without any special preparation. It comes out as really handy for those flowers that need a ‘dramatic’ deadheading.

Shearing

This is the last technique to know when learning how to deadhead a plant. This is a bit more radical, and is ideal for those plans with many flowers crowded against each other. Since it’s more difficult to remove one single bloom from such flowery bushes, the first thing you should do is wait until more of the plants start wilting.

Then, you can simply shear about one third of this bushy bloom. In the process, you might remove some flowers that were healthy. This will affect the initial production of future blooms, but the plant will easily recover. Soon afterwards, it will actually look better than it did at the beginning of the season. You can do this operation about two or three times during a season, so your blooms will only get better.

Deadheading techniques for various flowers

When learning how to deadhead a plant, it’s better to know what practices suit each bloom. Some flowers are more popular than others, so you are more likely to have them in your garden. Here are a few things that some specific flowers require, and some tips you should keep in mind.

Cosmos

This is a traditional white bloom you often see in most gardens. The idea behind deadheading is to prevent the plant from making seeds, and maintain the flowers for a longer period of time. Therefore, remove as much of it as you can.

In the case of cosmos, you shouldn’t only cut the dead flowers. Remove a part of its stem as well, until you reach the first set of healthy leaves. Usually, people use these blooms as cut flowers, to decorate bouquets or place them in vases and fill their home with a pleasant scent. Therefore, preserving the blooms is absolutely necessary.

Roses

Roses are the stars of all gardens, so you should be a master of their deadheading. They need plenty of energy to grow strong flowers, so this operation is vital for their health. As soon as you spot a dead flower on a stem, go on and prune that particular flower. The other plants on the stem will easily continue to wilt, but wait until all of them are dead and only after you can remove the entire stem.

Do the pruning at an angle of 45 degrees, and pay attention at the leaves that surround the stem you are cutting. That place should be surrounded by groupings of five leaves. If there are three leaves around the place, cut until you find the five-leaf grouping.

Plants with numerous flowers

In your garden, there should be some plants that produce bushy blooms. These include lavender, salvia, ground phlox, or thyme. They fit the shearing category, where you use some scissors to remove most of the plants once they start wilting.

However, how to tell when it’s time to deadhead these plants? Pay attention to their color, and all the changes that occur with them. As soon as you see this color has started fading out, it’s time to do the operation. If you start just in time, you can get two other sets of blooms in one single season.

Perennials

You need to be really careful with perennials, as these flowers spread their seeds and, next season, you’ll find yourself struggling with more blooms that you were ready. In the case of tall perennials, cut their stem before the last flowers are completely dead. Once they start wilting, they will also start producing seeds, and this is not something you want to happen.

Therefore, prune the stem just on top of the leaves. In the case of some plants, you might get an extra round of flowers near the end of the growing season. This applies to delphiniums, but only if you start the first pruning early in the season.

Mounded plants

Foxgloves and columbines fit this category, and they are quite important while learning how to deadhead flowers. These pretty plants can give you another series of blooms on sturdy stems if you do the deadheading properly. This implies cutting them close to the ground. The remaining part of the plant will conserve a huge amount of energy, and will trigger an abundant growth.

Summer bedding plants

It’s quite easy to deadhead petunias, marigolds, and other plants in the summer bedding category. Their flowers are delicate and easy to handle, so you only need to pinch them off at the base. If you like, you can use some snips, but your fingers are more than enough to do the job.

Bulbs

Plants that grow from bulbs will go on and start developing seeds once the first flowers start dying. You should prevent this, so it’s time for deadheading. Take a gardening tool and remove the top flower on the stem. This is already enough to prevent seeds from forming. Leave the other flowers on the stem fade on their own, as this will prepare the bulb for the next growing season.

Wilted pink rose on a healthy stem

Image source: Pixabay

Summing up

Before learning how to deadhead flowers, you should learn its importance. If you want a flower garden, deadheading is more than vital. The operation keeps the flowers beautiful and fragrant for a longer period of time, and assures their healthy growth during the next season. It also prevents many species from self-sowing and becoming invasive, so deadheading keeps your garden orderly and pretty.

Image source: Pixabay

Bonnie Enos

I spend my time in my garden trying to create the greatest outdoor space possible. My garden is my happy place and where you will always find me on a nice day. I take my experience and share it here for you to read!

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