A guide to deadheading the flowers in your garden and the reasons why to do it.
We’re experiencing some particularly warm weather in the UK at the moment, and the garden is slowing in pace. Other than keeping on top of watering, there are not a lot of jobs to do in the garden, and July is a great month to sit back and enjoy your hard work. One task you can enjoy doing is removing the faded and dead flowers from your plants. This is an easy way of keeping your garden looking tidy and it will also extend the flowering period of your favourite annuals, biennials and perennials. Get my checklist for gardening in July here or read on to find out more about deadheading.
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What is “deadheading”?
To “deadhead” a plant simply means to remove the flowers from it as they die or “go over”. This keeps them looking their best and also encourages it to produce further blooms. Deadheading can be done on plants that are in your flowerbeds, containers and hanging baskets.
What are the reasons to deadhead?
- Appearance: Removing faded flowers improves the appearance of your garden and plants. It keeps them looking attractive.
- Growth: Deadheading stops the plants putting their energy into producing seed, and instead keeps it directing its energy into producing strong shoots, leaves, roots and, of course, flowers!
- Disease-control: Cutting off the flowers of particular plants, such as roses, helps to prevent the spread of disease e.g. powdery mildew. If blooms or buds do have powdery mildew, dont wait for these to die - remove them as and when they become affected.
- Tidiness: Certain plants like peonies have lots of petals, so if the flowers are left to drop, you will end up with petals everywhere. These can stick to the leaves of the plant in wet weather, and generally looks untidy, so lots of gardeners prefer to snip them off.
What plants can be deadheaded?
A lot of flowering plants benefit from having their flowers removed after blooming. This includes, bedding plants, tender and hardy perennials, flowering shrubs, flowering climbers and bulbs. Annual bedding plants like petunias and pansies, can be nipped off with your fingers, whilst woody perennials like roses need to be snipped off with secateurs.
What plants should not be deadheaded?
- There is no need to deadhead plants like fuchsias, salvias and asters. They have fairly small flowers that will naturally drop off, and they don’t set-seed easily, so it will not impact them too much to leave the flowers on.
- It is a good idea to leave some seed heads on plants such as sunflowers and echinaceas as birds and other wildlife will enjoy eating these.
- Ornamental seed heads add add interest to your borders, so leave these on on flowers such as alliums, echinops and nigella.
- Certain roses such as Rosa rugosa have attractive fruiting seed heads known as “hips”, following flowering, so don’t remove the flowers of these. These will give your garden autumn colour. Ornamental fruits can also provide a valuable food source for wildlife over winter.
When do I do the deadheading?
Ideally, cut off the flowers as soon as they look messy. Try and keep on top of deadheading so it does not become a big task. Usually it takes a few days for seeds to start forming, so don’t worry too much if you don’t get around to it for a few days.
How do I deadhead flowers?
There are two main methods of deadheading. The first is to pinch off the flowers using your forefinger and thumb. The second method is to use snips or secateurs.
- Pinch method: Simply pinch off the faded bloom beneath the head. Remove the stalky bit beneath too to keep it really neat. This method can be used on pelargoniums (bend down the whole, dead flowering stalk and it will come away easily), petunias, pansies, polyanthus, bergonias, dianthus, evening primroses etc. Some flowering bulbs can also be deadheaded in this way.
- Cutting method: Use secateurs, deadheading snips or a sharp knife to assist you with taking the flowers off sinewy, tough or woody stems. For annuals, biennials and perennials in the borders, (e.g. dahlias, lychnis and marigolds), cut the flower with flower-stalk off, back to a new bud or leaf. Plants with a stalk that bears multiple flower heads, e.g. day lilies, can be deadheaded as each bloom fades, and then the whole stem can be cut off, down to the ground, once they’ve all died. With woody flowering-shrubs such as roses, you can snap off the dead flower below the head, or use a blade to take it off back to a new leaf. Flowering bulbs like daffodils benefit from having their flowers snipped off just below the seed capsule under the head - leave the stems and the leaves to put energy back into the bulb.
- Chelsea chop: Some plants can take a drastic approach and can be cut back to near ground level to encourage a second flush (e.g. hardy geraniums and lupins). This is sometimes called the “Chelsea chop” as it’s often carried out before the Chelsea Flower Show.
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I really enjoy deadheading as its something I can do as I wander around my garden. It’s one of the tasks I would consider a “pottering about” task, and I do it any time I happen to spot a scruffy flower.
If you have any questions about removing the dead flowers in your garden, please pop it in the comments below.