How and Why to Deadhead Flowers

Table of Contents

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice offered to flower gardeners: To keep your plantings fresh and in bloom, make sure you regularly deadhead. But what exactly does that mean and how should you do it? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the basic gardening skill, deadheading flowers.

WHAT is deadheading?

Cutting off spent flower stalk from an Asian lily.

Deadheading is simply removing a spent flower from a growing plant before it has a chance to set seeds. This encourages the plant to bloom again and can often keep a plant full of colorful flowers right through one or more seasons.

WHY deadhead?

Zinna patch with many flowers that are wilted and need to be dead-headed.

The goal of all plants is to propagate their species by producing more plants, often through seeds. In flowering plants, the bloom is the first step in that process, and once it dies back, it’s replaced by a seed head. If you remove the faded blossom before it develops seeds, then two things happen:
  1. The energy that the plant was going to put into seed production can get routed instead into making more flowers.
  2. In most cases, the plant will do just that in a renewed attempt to make seeds and secure the next generation.

HOW to deadhead?

Cutting off faded flowers from a rose bush.

Once a flower has begun to fade, snip or pinch it off the stem below the bloom but above the first set of leaves. Be careful not to remove any new flower buds forming there.

WHEN to deadhead?

A bucket of old flowers removed from dead-heading the plants, now ready to be composted.

Different types of flowers’ blooms last for different amounts of time—some unfurling over weeks and others open and spent in a day’s time. You should deadhead when the flower has just started to droop but well before seeds have begun to form. In a garden with many different varieties of flowers, a great habit to get into during the growing seasons is wandering through you beds and around your planters first thing in the morning (maybe as you sip a cup of coffee), snipping any fading blooms as you go.

WHO (what sort of plants) should I deadhead?

Beautiful containers filled with annual flowering plants.

Not all flowers benefit from deadheading. Some plants keep their blooms going whether you clean them up or not. Here are five popular flowers that will give you months of color without any pruning at all:
On the other hand, here are five plants for which deadheading is essential if you are after a season full of blooms:
Deadheading is a simple chore that creates a big difference in the appearance and duration of your flower gardens. A good pair of pruning shears can make the task easier. Find out the short list of basic tools, like shears, that every gardener needs to keep her plantings in tip-top shape.
Hand holding a pair of pruning shears.


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