Do summer’s faded flowers make you feel like a Debbie Downer? Just deadhead them! Many flowers will put out at least two rounds of beautiful blooms if you’ll only remove them as they start to decay.
If you’ve wondered how or why to deadhead flowers, we’ve got all the information you need to start this simple and rewarding process in your ornamental garden.
- What is deadheading?
- Benefits of deadheading flowers
- When not to deadhead flowers
- Which flowers should be deadheaded?
- Which flowers should not be deadheaded?
- How to deadhead flowers
- FAQ about how and why to deadhead flowers
What is deadheading?
Deadheading means removing fading or dead flowers from a flowering plant. Why should you deadhead your flowers? The main reason is aesthetics. Many annuals and some perennials will rebloom one or more times if you deadhead them.
So, how does deadheading work? In its lifetime, a plant wants to germinate, grow, flower, set seed, and die. Once the plant flowers, the flower wanes, and the plant puts its energy into setting seed. If you pull the flower before it sets seed, the plant thinks it needs to rebloom so it has another chance to set seed for the following year.
Gardeners love to deadhead because it extends the bloom time in their gardens and is an enjoyable, relaxing garden chore.
Benefits of deadheading flowers
Beyond aesthetics, there are several other benefits to deadheading your spent blooms.
- Fewer fallen flower petals to clean at the end of the season
- Prevent self-seeding
- Clean, neat appearance in your garden
- Focus the plant’s energy on flowers instead of seeds
- Less decaying material in the garden reduces disease
- Longer bloom time
When not to deadhead flowers
There are times when it is better not to deadhead your flowers.
- If you want to encourage self-seeding (when seeds fall and grow again next season)
- If you want to intentionally allow the plant to develop seed heads (if you plan to harvest the seed)
- For aesthetics — some plants have attractive seed pods, such as rose hips
- For a winter or autumn wildlife “seed garden” (to feed wildlife in the winter)
Which flowers should be deadheaded?
- Lupine (also comes as a perennial)
- Roses (repeat bloomers)
- Shasta daisy
Which flowers should not be deadheaded?
Plants that bloom the second year (biennial) or naturally drop their flowers (self-cleaning) can do without deadheading.
- Cardinal flower (Some of these are self-cleaning, meaning they’ll drop their flowers once they’re spent. FYI: This plant is moderately poisonous to humans. )
- Flowering vines (This applies to most. Check your species to be sure.)
- Forget-me-not (If you wish, deadhead to prevent excessive self-seeding. Plant in fall for spring flowers.)
- Foxglove (Blooms the second year. FYI: This plant is highly poisonous to humans. )
- Hollyhock (These are biennial and bloom the second year.)
- Impatiens (These are self-cleaning.)
- Periwinkle (Also known as vinca. Self-cleaning.)
- Wishbone flower (Self-cleaning.)
- Other flowers marketed as “continuous bloomers” or “self-cleaning”
If you’re curious to know more about deadheading, check out these publications from Cooperative Extension services across the country:
- Deadheading Herbaceous Ornamentals and Roses
- Enjoy More Flowers in Your Garden by Deadheading Regularly
- The Gardener’s Toolkit — Deadheading
- To Deadhead or Not? Your Final Answer is…
- Deadheading Gives Plants New Life
How to deadhead flowers
Deadheading is dead simple.
Step 1: Gather your tools
- Pruning shears or snips (may or may not need these)
- Heavy-duty gloves (for flowers with thorns)
- Alcohol (to clean shears in between cuts if flowers are diseased)
Step 2: Look for fading or spent flowers
- When you see spent blooms, pinch off the flower heads with your fingers if you can. Most annual flowers can be pinched off this way. Perennials or plants with tough stems may require snips or hand pruners. For most perennials, remove the stem back to the nearest node (where the branch or buds originate).
How do you deadhead roses? For repeat-blooming roses in their first season, cut back to just above the first set of three leaves. Every year thereafter, cut just above the first set of five leaves.
Step 3: Consider an autumn seed garden
- Consider leaving spent flowers on the stems starting in late summer. This gives the seeds a chance to set and provides needed food for wildlife in the winter. Coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are winter favorites for birds.
FAQ about how and why to deadhead flowers
If deadheading your flower garden seems like too much for your to-do list, it’s not something you should fret over. Deadheading may be ideal for your garden’s aesthetics and help prevent disease, but it’s not a must-do gardening chore. Your garden will most likely survive and continue to thrive.
Deadheading is a great chore for kids. Choose plants that require hand-pinching (instead of sharp pruners) and give them a short training session. After that, they can deadhead your flowers all season long.
Want someone else to deadhead and keep your flower beds looking great? Contact one of our local lawn care pros to mow, edge, and hand-prune your flowers all growing-season long.
Main Photo Credit: Engin_Akyurt | Pixabay