Deadheading Plants: A Guide on How and Why to Remove the Heads from Garden Flowers

There are many reasons that you may want to perform the deadheading flowers procedure. Two of the most common involve the prolonging of blooming, and the need to restrict the plant from shedding seed and spreading uncontrollably in the garden.

Here we take an in-depth look at how to deadhead garden flowers

So What is Deadheading About?

By deadheading a plant you are fooling it into taking a different course to the norm. Normally a plant would produce flowers, get fertilized, and produce seeds. For species survival, it is wise for a plant to divert as much energy as possible into producing seeds to procure a future generation.

There are many biological processes that aid a plant in doing this such as senescence. This enables the plant to remove nutrients from leaves and other non-essential areas and relocate them for use in seed development and storage processes.

So in nature once a flower has fertilized, energy will be used to set seed resulting in both wilting flowers and leaves.

As a gardener, it is often beneficial to delay this process. This can be achieved by removing a flower before the plant diverts all of its energy into producing seed.

Often this will lead to a plant producing subsequent blooms in an attempt to achieve its natural reproductive cycle.

Even if a further round of blooming is not expected, it is worthwhile to deadhead flowers as energy will be diverted into existing blooms.

Reasons for Deadheading Flowers?

In addition to prolonging blooming time there are many other advantages associated with the deadheading flowers technique.

One of which is that it will remove pests, and/or diseases that are hidden within the flower heads, this is especially viable for plants such as roses which may accumulate many hidden pests and diseases.

Secondly some plants set many seeds, and although deadheading them may not create a second bloom it will prevent the dispersal of seeds throughout the garden.

This will prevent a desired garden plant from becoming uncontrollable weeds.

A further advantage of deadheading is that important nutrients will be kept in leaves, this will result in healthier looking plants and is especially relevant for plants that are grown as much for their foliage as they are for their flowers.

Indeed for plants that are grown just for their attractive leaves, you may want to conserve as much possible energy in the leaves by removing inflorescences before flowering occurs.

Commonly Deadheaded Flower Species

Some of the species of plants that are commonly deadheaded include roses, petunias, geraniums , marigolds, hydrangeas, daffodils and pansies.

Deadheading Roses
Roses photograph by NKCPhoto.

When to Deadhead

Deadheading is usually performed when a plants flower begins to wilt and die, or if they become diseased. This typically occurs from the middle of spring through to the end of summer and is species dependent.

How to Deadhead a Plant

The process of deadheading varies from plant to plant, and is usually carried out using a sharp pair of garden scissors or pruners. Species with softer stems such as French Marigolds, can be deadheaded by pinching them between your thumb and fingers.

Deadheading Tagates
Tagates photograph by Leonora (Ellie) Enking.

If you are dealing with a plant that carries blooms in clusters, then you may wish to wait until all of the flowers in the cluster have died before carrying out the procedure (or perhaps when so many have dies that it is no longer attractive).

In this case simply cut off the entire cluster about five to ten millimetres above the next cluster or leaves.

For plants that have individual flowering stems then cut to the base once flowering has finished.

For flowers that bloom in branches with individual flowers then cut off each flower as it dies, then once the whole branching stem has died that can be cut back to its base.

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I hope that you found this guide on how to perform the deadheading of plants in your garden. You may also enjoy my gardening guides on how to grow Fall Flowers, Growing plant in different region zones, and Invasive plants.