Let’s be honest, “deadheading” does sound a little scary, but this simple task is an easy way to keep your garden blooming time and time again. Removing fading blooms from your plants can also help to direct the plant’s energy into creating flowers, making them healthier and better looking. Besides this, deadheading also helps to keep a clean and tidy garden, which can in turn reduce pest damage on your plants.
Some plants thrive when deadheaded regularly, and others can be left for you to enjoy the fruits or seeds.
What is deadheading?
Deadheading is the process of removing fading flowers from your plants to encourage more blooms.
Plants produce flowers to encourage pollinators such as bees to transfer pollen between plants. This helps the plant to produce healthy seeds for its next generation. Once a flower has bloomed, the plant will set about making seeds. If you remove the flower before the plant can make these seeds, it will try again by producing more blooms.
Deadheading helps to keep plants looking fresh and beautiful in your garden. There are several other benefits of deadheading both for your plants and for your garden.
What are the benefits of deadheading?
- Encourages new and strong growth
Deadheading is a form of light pruning, helping to keep the plant strong and healthy. Producing seeds is an energy-intensive business for our plants. As deadheading helps to forestall the creation of seeds, it diverts the energy of the plant into creating new blooms and new growth to support those blooms.
Deadheading during the flowering period can also help to reduce pests and diseases. Removing dying material from plants removes potential feeding sites for opportunistic pests such as woodlice that will graze on weaker plant material. This could help prevent them moving on to other, healthier parts of the plant. Additionally, removing spent blooms can help to increase airflow around the leaves and stems, helping to reduce the likelihood of fungal infections.
- Keeps plants looking neat and tidy
Fading blooms can be quite unsightly. When flowers are drooping, or turning brown it gives our plants a tired appearance. By deadheading, we can get more flowers and keep our plants looking vibrant and healthy.
- Limits the spread of petals
Old blooms often drop petals, scattering them over the foliage and plants below. This not only looks untidy, but can also create problems for other plants. Fallen petals may become a habitat for pests, encouraging them into your flower beds. Also, fallen petals can stick to the foliage of other plants reducing their ability to photosynthesise and potentially lead to infections that start on the dying plant material.
Pruning regularly or before strong winds or heavy rain is good practice for reducing the spread of petals.
- Reduce seed formation
Removing old flowers from a plant will prevent the seeds from developing. This is particularly important if you have plants that freely self-seed in your garden. By removing the flowers as they go over, you will stop this from happening and retain some control over what grows where.
If you are happy for seeds to form, you can still deadhead your plants for part of the flowering season to encourage growth. Then, allow them to go to seed as their flowering season draws to a close. This will mean that you can collect the seeds from your plants or allow them to self-seed. Seeds are also a valuable source of food for many garden birds.
- Helps the plant conserve energy
Producing seeds costs the plant lots of energy. If you remove the flowers before this process begins, you will divert the energy into further blooms. Once seeds begin to form, the plant will direct most of its energy into them. This often causes flowering to come to an end and the plant to lose some of its vigour. Whilst this is expected towards the end of the season, we can help to delay this by deadheading.
When is the best time to deadhead?
The best time to deadhead flowers is when they start to turn brown or drop petals. This is a sign that they are now turning their energy into producing seeds. By removing the flowers promptly, you will prevent the plant from using its energy to make seeds. This means that the plant will go on to produce more growth and more flowers, with the eventual aim of producing seeds. With many plants we can significantly lengthen the flowering season by continually deadheading.
How to deadhead flowers
Whilst deadheading is a simple practice, there are some nuances with certain plants that are worth knowing, to get the best flowers. The most important thing to remember, with all deadheading is to do it when it is dry. Any type of pruning or deadheading should be done during a dry spell to avoid the risk of fungal infection.
Below are some different types of plants and how to deadhead them.
Most bedding plants are easy to deadhead, but set seeds quickly, so it needs to be done often. If the flowers are on their own stem, you can remove the stem back to the foliage. Bedding plants are less susceptible to fungal infections, so don’t worry too much about the weather. Here are some examples of bedding plants and how to deadhead them.
Petunias will look much better when deadheaded regularly. As soon as the flowers begin to fade, remove them carefully using snips or a sharp fingernail. Remove right back to just above the closest set of leaves.
Pansies and violas need deadheading regularly as they set seed very fast. This will help them to continue to flower for longer. Remove flowers all the way back to where they branch from the main stem as they begin to fade.
As with pansies, marigolds should be deadheaded back to the branch from the main stem. This will ensure that flowering continues and will not leave you with lots of long, flowerless spikes.
Shrubs need to be treated with care when deadheading. You don’t want to introduce a fungal infection by deadheading when it is too wet. As they do not set seed as fast as annual bedding plants, there is less urgency to deadhead, so take your time. Some shrubs will need special treatment when deadheading, so it’s worth knowing what to do so you can take good care of them.
You can prune some hydrangeas, though, leaving the flower heads on the plant will provide some protection over winter. Flower heads also dry out and provide some interest in the winter garden. You can remove the dead heads once the risk of frost has passed in spring. If you have a hardy Lace cap hydrangea, you can remove blooms as they start to fade, though it is advised not too late in the summer.
To remove hydrangea blooms, follow the stem back to the first set of leaves and make a cut with a sharp pair of secateurs just above these leaves.
Peonies are very willing to drop their petals, so it’s a good idea to deadhead them before they start making a mess in your garden. Take a sharp pair of secateurs and remove the flower and its stem to just above the closest set of leaves. Deadheading peonies regularly will help encourage air flow around your plant and keep it healthy.
Almost all flowering climbers will do best when deadheaded regularly, with the possible exception of fruit-producing climbers such as passionfruit. Passionfruit produces beautiful orange fruits, which come autumn time can make a spectacular display in themselves.
There are a few climbers such as star jasmine that do not need deadheading, though you may prefer to remove the dead flowers. Bear in mind that with many climbers, deadheading might be challenging due to their height. Deadheading is not essential, so please do not risk it if it is dangerous.
Wisteria is a joy in the garden, but their flowers can be very transient, filling your garden with colour and then fading fast. If you remove flowers immediately after they have bloomed, you will keep the plant flowering for longer. Do this by simply cutting them off once they begin to fade.
Clematis don’t have to be deadheaded, but it is recommended to maintain the look of your plant. You can also encourage more flowers by removing old ones. Simply snap, pick or cut off the blooms and their individual flowering stem, if they have one, once they start looking tired.
A lot of bulbs can be deadheaded, but it’s important to leave the flower stem as these photosynthesise, producing energy for the bulbs to reflower the following year. Some bulbs, such as Alliums will be better if you leave them without deadheading. The flower heads dry out and make a very decorative addition to your garden borders. Some bulbs, such as Muscari or Grape Hyacinth, will readily self-seed if you leave the dead heads, making your displays more impressive each year.
Large bulbs such as daffodils can be deadheaded regularly. Simply snap off the head just below the bulbous seed pod.
Gladioli make wonderful cut flowers, so you can remove the entire flowering stem just as the buds are beginning to burst open and have them as a beautiful display in your house. Alternatively, you can let them flower in your garden, enjoying their spectacular colours outside. Once the flowers are looking a little worse for wear, remove the entire flowering stem.
Roses are only too willing to scatter their confetti-like petals all over your garden. They are also prone to fungal infections, so regular deadheading can not only extend the flowering season substantially, but also help to keep your plant healthy and your garden tidy. For more information on pruning roses read our how to prune roses article.
Climbing roses can be difficult to deadhead when they are tall, and when they have so many flowers it seems like a mammoth job! You can encourage more flowers by removing the deadheads, but they will flower just fine if you don’t. Deadhead them by removing the entire flowering head back to the first set of leaves.
Standard roses are wonderful when you can keep them blooming for a long time, so regular deadheading is well worth it. To deadhead standard roses, snap or cut the flower off just below where it joins the stem, taking care not to damage the other flowers around it.
Which plants don’t need deadheading?
There are some obliging plants that don’t need to be deadheaded and will give you a beautiful display without any additional work. Some of the common garden flowers that we don’t need to deadhead are:
- Russian Sage
Plants that produce seeds for birds
If you would like to create a wildlife garden, not deadheading some plants can help feed your garden birds. You can also collect your own seeds from annual and perennial plants to grow more plants the following year for free!
Here are some plants that you may want to consider not deadheading, to leave seeds for the birds:
You may wish to deadhead these plants early in the season to extend the flowering season and leave the later blooms to go to seed. Their energy-rich seeds will be a feast for your garden birds.
Plants with ornamental seeds or fruits
We have already discussed two examples of these plants; passionfruit and allium that are best not deadheaded so that we can benefit from their decorative fruits and seed heads. Hydrangeas are another example of plants that can be left so you benefit from their ornamental heads as they dry out into autumn. Some even keep their colour as they dry and look beautiful.
Other examples of plants with ornamental fruits or seeds that can be left alone are:
- Oriental Poppies
- Nigella (Love-in-a-Mist)
- Ornamental grasses
Tips for deadheading perennials
- Deadheading perennials is an easy job best done with a pair of clean, sharp secateurs. Some flower stalks and heads can be removed by pinching using your thumbnail and forefinger.
Plants that bear multiple blooms on a single stem should be picked off individually as they fade, and the entire stem down to the ground removed once all flowers are finished.
- Plants that produce a single flower on the end of each stem can be deadheaded right back to where the flower stem meets the rest of the plant.
Deadheading is a fabulous and easy way to get the most flowers in your garden. By regularly deadheading your plants you can maintain their displays for longer and grow stronger, healthier, plants. There are however some instances where not deadheading is prudent. If the plant produces good seeds for birds, ornamental fruits or seed heads or the flower head provides the plant with frost protection, you should refrain from deadheading, at least later into the season.
During the summer months, deadheading may feel like a never-ending job. Remember that not to let it cause you stress, gardening and flowers should be enjoyable, so set yourself limits if you need.
If you do not want to do any deadheading, this is okay. Your flowering season, and number of flowers might be less, but the plants will easily withstand being left alone. There are a good number of annuals and perennials that do not need deadheading at all, so choose these if you want to make your gardening life easier!
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