Most flowering plants need lots of sun to keep on blooming. Still, over time, the blooms often start to diminish. That’s where deadheading can make all the difference. Not only does it keep plants looking neat, but it also promotes new growth and re-flowering. And, there’s nothing quite like getting a plant to re-bloom that otherwise looks done for the season.
WHAT IS DEADHEADING?
Simply put, deadheading is the practice of removing spent (dead) flower heads from a plant.
Dried poppy seed heads
All plants follow the same life cycle; that is, they grow, produce flowers, set seeds and die. No sooner do the blooms fade, and a plant turns its energy to setting seed. That said, by removing spent blooms, you can delay production of seeds. This in turn redirects energy to flowering. The result is a healthier, more vigorous plant that blooms for a longer period of time.
HOW TO DEADHEAD
Regular deadheading benefits all blooming plants. However, the world of flowers is diverse and many species require their own specific methods. Here are tips on how to deadhead six key types of flowering plants:
Clusters of flowers with leaves on their stems
Purple garden phlox
These types of flowers include tall, leggy plants like phlox, yarrow, daisies. To keep your plant looking neat, remove the spent flowers just before they die back completely.
A good rule of thumb is to reach into the plant and prune the spent flowers back to the first or second set of leaves. This not only helps hide the cut, but it also encourages the plant to bush out as it produces new blooms. I vary the lengths at which I cut to keep the plant shapely.
Flowers with no leaves on their stems
Long-stemmed orange daylily
Flowers like daylilies and hostas have no leaves on their stems. Cut the entire stalk back to the base of the plant once it has finished flowering.
Multiple flower spikes of salvia make pruning tedious
Once the initial flush of flower spikes start to brown, salvias look like they’re done for the season. With proper deadheading, however, you can encourage them to keep on blooming.
What may at first glance look like a single flower stalk is actually three flower stalks growing together – a central stem surrounded by two, smaller ones on either side. As soon as the central stalk starts to wither, remove it. This will encourage the side shoots to grow. Then, once the side shoots lose their color, cut them off too.
Deadheading salvias in this way can encourage the plant to re-bloom at least twice and sometimes three times during the season, especially if you feed it mid way through the summer. Try one of these stunners for great summer color: Salvia patens Cambridge Blue, bright red Salvia Jezebel, or the traditional purple/blue favorite Salvia x sylvestris May Night.
Bushy plants with small flowers
Bushy perennials like coreopsis can be encouraged to produce a second round of blooms way past their typical flowering time.
However, it can be tedious deadheading so many tiny flowers. Instead, I grab big chunks of spent blooms in one hand and shear them back with a pair of long-blade shears in the other. This not only encourages the plant to re-bloom a week or so later, it keeps thinks looking tidy. Try soft yellow Coreopsis Moonbeam for reliable blooms all summer.
With roses, the number to know is ‘5’
Most of us know that roses need to be deadheaded to flourish. Remove withered blooms by pruning back to above a five-leaflet leaf, cutting on an angle.
Geraniums need consistent deadheading to look their best
All annuals need to be deadheaded regularly to thrive (with the possible exception of begonias, in which case you should prune the leaves.) Popular annuals like geraniums and petunias must be constantly snipped, pinched or cut back to keep flowers looking neat and to encourage blooming. For a more in-depth tutorial on how to prune these annuals, click here for How To Keep Your Potted Plants In Shape All Summer.
Butterfly weed is a prolific self-seeder
Some flowers, like columbine, echinacea and butterfly weed are prolific self-seeders. If you’re looking to produce lots of new baby plants, leave the seed heads on and they’ll quickly spread around your garden.
DEADHEADING WON’T DAMAGE THE PLANT
It’s rare to damage a plant by cutting it. Use common sense while removing spent flowers, taking care to hide your cuts under existing foliage. Remember to sterilize your pruners regularly to prevent spreading disease between plants. You’ll reap the rewards of a new flush of blooms!
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