Gardeners always take the time to deadhead flowers to ensure the continued health and vitality of flowering gardens. This simple but important process prevents seed production and focuses more of the plant’s energy on blooming as well as being instrumental in reshaping a flower that has grown leggy and unattractive.
The varying success of deadheading largely depends on the plant species, climate, rainfall and season but novice gardeners should take heart; it is nearly impossible to kill a flower while simply removing spent blooms and trimming excess growth.
Immediately after they have died is the best and easiest time to remove old blooms and prevent seed production. Quick action also prevents these blooms from creating a messy looking garden or dirty pool. Most flowers require nothing more than a quick snap or pinch of the fingers to remove old blooms while tall, long stemmed flowers should be cut at the base of the plant with a sharp knife or shears. Bushy flowers, and those that flower in clumps, are impossible to deadhead individually. A pair of pruning shears or hedge clippers works well to quickly deadhead blooms while also trimming the flower back into an attractive shape. The trim should not only encourage a new set of colorful blooms but also stimulate the plant to grow larger and produce healthy new foliage.
The frequency and intensity of deadheading depends largely on the type of flower. Begonias and impatiens simply drop their flowers so only an occasional trim for shaping may be needed and any flower whose seed head is the focal point should only be cut when it has completely died, the seeds have dried up and it is no longer attractive. Cosmos, zinnias, snapdragons and marigolds will often continue blooming when the stem itself is cut back slightly. Thick plants, like mums and sweet William, will produce an entirely new flush of growth and bloom when they are trimmed to nearly half their original size after blooms begin to fade. Some flowers, like lilac and hydrangea, set next years blooms early so it is best to remove spent blooms immediately.
Deadheading accomplishes a number of goals at once. Plants typically produce more blooms, retain an attractive shape and grow larger and stronger all while the garden stays cleaner. The only possible downside is the loss of seeds that some gardening enthusiasts collect for next year’s crop or use to feed wintering birds. This is easily remedied by finally allowing flowers to produce their seeds at the end of the growing season.
The important thing to remember about the frequently unpopular job of deadheading is that is only has to be done because the garden was once filled with beautiful blooms. With a little work and proper maintenance, it can be again.