Deadheading is a such an easy way to keep your flowers blooming! It’s actually just a fancy term for removing the spent blooms from annuals, perennials and some types of shrubs. Deadheading also allows many kinds of annuals to keep blooming all season long until a hard frost. It’s good for some perennials and shrubs as well because it sometimes extends the blooming period or encourages repeat blooming if plants are not allowed to go to seed. Besides watering regularly during dry spells and fertilizing, deadheading is the best thing you can do for your plants to keep them looking great all season long.
Here’s everything else you need to know about deadheading:
Why should I deadhead my plants?
Quite honestly, it’s more attractive to remove those old, dried up flowers. But more importantly, plants have one goal in life: to make seeds in order to reproduce. However, that requires energy, and when that energy goes into making seeds, your plant will stop making flowers. When you pinch off a dead blossom, the plant starts pushing out new buds because it still wants to reproduce. In a sense, you’re “tricking” it into repeatedly blooming. Deadheading also prevents reseeding of aggressive plants, such as some types of morning glories, if you don’t want them to drop seed and pop up all over the place again next year.
Do I need any special tools to deadhead my flowers?
Generally, all you need to do is pinch back the dead blooms between your fingers. Occasionally, tougher stems may require a pair of garden shears or snips. Make sure to pinch off the seedpod that’s forming behind the flower, not just the withered flower petals—and don't cut off new buds that haven’t opened yet! For flowers on long stems, such as black-eyed susans, cut off the whole stem at ground level when it’s done blooming so you don't have a big, long, naked stem remaining.
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What plants should be deadheaded?
In general, annuals that look better or bloom more profusely when deadheaded include geraniums, marigolds, nasturtium, petunias, pinks, salvia, snapdragons, and zinnia. Perennials that may rebloom if deadheaded include bleeding heart, butterfly bush, campanula, columbine, some types of roses, salvia, and yarrow. Perennials such as day lilies, peonies, irises, and lamb’s ear won’t produce more flowers, but cleaning up the old flowers will make the plant appear more tidy and help it put more energy into developing its roots and storing energy for next year’s blooms.
But not all plants must be deadheaded, especially newer varieties or hybrids; some of these have been bred specifically to eliminate the need for deadheading (such as Wave Petunias, for example). Other plants—including many types of begonias, impatiens, portulaca, and torenia—“self-deadhead,” so you don’t have to do a thing to keep them looking fresh.
What if I don't do it?
It’s actually not that much work to take a casual stroll through your garden every few days to snip off dead blooms; it’s really rather satisfying to neaten things up. But if you absolutely don’t want to do it, you don’t have to! And some gardeners actually like the look of seedheads on plants such as coneflowers, so it’s okay to leave them in place for winter interest. Finally, if in doubt about deadheading a certain type of plant, just skip it. Nature knows what to do, and your plants will do just fine without being deadheaded.
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