The Dos and Don'ts of Deadheading Flowers

Encourage beautiful blooms all summer long with this simple, essential pruning technique.

  1. Understand the importance of deadheading.

    Understand the importance of deadheading.

    If you’ve taken the time and effort to plant flowers, there’s no question you’ll want them to thrive as long as possible. Make that happen with the basic gardening practice of deadheading, the key to a long season of fabulous, colorful flowers.

    Deadheading refers to removing spent or faded flowers from both annual and perennial plants. Typically, once a plant has finished flowering, it suspends the flowering process in order to form seeds. When you deadhead, the energy, strength, and nutrients that would have gone into producing new seed generates more flowers instead. This means you can get a second show, or maybe several more, over the course of the growing season.

    Deadheading doesn’t cost a dime or require any special equipment, but it does require the right technique. Read on to learn the secrets to success—and enjoy your gorgeous garden for months to come.

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  2. DON’T deadhead without researching your specific plants first.

    DON’T deadhead without researching your specific plants first.

    Not all plants need to be deadheaded and in fact, the process could be detrimental to some. Repeat bloomers like cosmos and geraniums will continue to flower all summer if deadheaded regularly, but others, particularly perennials like hollyhock and foxglove, must reseed in order to bloom the following year. A little homework first could save your garden the next growing season.

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  3. DO pinch in the right place.

    DO pinch in the right place.

    When deadheading, remove the flower stem right below the spent flower and above the next set of healthy leaves. Perform deadheading as soon as a flower’s appearance begins to fade. You can use garden shears, or simply pinch off the dead flower with your fingers—just make sure to remove any seed pods that may have started to form behind the flower. These may be hard to detect nestled among foliage; they look different from flower to flower, but will typically start out as a capsule the same color as the stem that splits apart to reveal seeds.

  4. DON’T feel compelled to save the stem.

    DON’T feel compelled to save the stem.

    Depending on your aesthetic preferences in the garden, you may not like the look of a long stem sticking out sans a pretty flower attached. If so, feel free to cut the stem off all the way at the bottom. The stem will need to grow back before you’ll see another bloom, but it should flower again.

  5. DO inspect flowers regularly.

    DO inspect flowers regularly.

    Depending on how long a plant blooms—this can be days or weeks, depending on the plant and other factors, such as weather—you may need to deadhead frequently. Get in the habit of checking your flowers each time you’re in the garden. Some flowers, like roses, marigolds, zinnias, and geraniums, could bloom all summer with regular deadheading.

  6. DON’T deadhead if plants produce pretty seed pods.

    DON’T deadhead if plants produce pretty seed pods.

    Some plants, like Gladwin iris, produce seed pods in the fall that are as attractive as their flowers. If that’s the case with any of the plants in your garden and you like the look, feel free to forgo deadheading. via Sten

  7. DO be aware of “volunteers.”

    DO be aware of “volunteers.”

    Sometimes when deadheading flowers, seeds can get inadvertently scattered and settle in the ground. The next season, you may be surprised to find new offspring growing from those seeds that you didn’t purposely plant. Many gardeners find these “volunteers” to be a fun surprise, but if you’re not up for newcomers, make sure to collect and dispose of all the seedpods you find as you work.

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  8. DON’T feel compelled to deadhead.

    DON’T feel compelled to deadhead.

    If you get super busy over the summer or go out of town for a few weeks’ vacation, don’t worry if you fail to deadhead your garden. The practice is more for the appearance of an extended flower show and less about the plants’ health.

  9. DO suspend the practice in the winter.

    DO suspend the practice in the winter.

    Deadheading can be performed any time during the growing season, but once the weather turns chilly, stop—for the sake of birds and other wildlife. Animals will eat from the seedpods during the cold months, and for some, seeds are a crucial food source. Allowing the seedpods to form is giving back to nature.

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