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Tough Love for Flowering Plants

deadheading flowers

Deadheading is the process of removing blooms from flowering plants. It can be done by clipping off only the bloom, or by cutting the entire flower stem. Most deadheading involves decapitation of spent blooms. It may seem wasteful to remove blooms. A withered flower left on the stem is a signal to the plant that it is beginning a new phase in the plant’s circle of life. A spent flower notifies the plant that pollination is complete. The plant responds by sending lots of energy toward fruit or seed formation. By deadheading, gardeners can fool a plant into thinking it must continue to produce more blooms to attract pollinators. Once a plant thinks pollination is complete, it will stop flowering.

Deadheading stops a plant from weakening. Cut back any spent blooms and any flowers that have peaked right away. Allowing the older flower heads to go to seed will send plants into a lazy decline and the foliage will begin to suffer from pest damage while the stems elongate and flop to the ground. You can interrupt seed production progress by removing both the petals and the developing seed pods before they can mature. Be thorough. Leaving behind any flower heads and seed pods will keep the plants complacent, thinking their job of reproducing a new generation is done.

Deadheading can induce a flowering plant to produce a new flush of blooms, or it can merely be a grooming exercise. Some plants are easily fooled. Others have only one moment of glorious color each growing season, and won’t be duped into producing new, second flush of flowers. Black-eyed Susans, Penstemons, Iris, and Daylilies bloom once, and that’s it. They will not be fooled. Once they bloom, they’re done for the season. Part of their charm is their fleeting nature. Rather than thinking of deadheading as a destructive activity, think of it as a pleasant way of monitoring the flower garden on a regular basis. Walk among the flowers to deadhead at least once a week.

Deadheading is a potential harvest of free seed. There is a good chance, if you deadhead flowers after they have changed color and turned brown, you can harvest viable seed from the trimmings. I like to store the seed of the first fruits of each plant. The first flowers tend to be larger and more perfect in form, which will result in stronger progeny. Deadheading is your opportunity to look after your flowers and tweak and edit as needed.

Deadheading is a way to delay bolting. To delay bolting, you cut out the flowers before they have a chance to bloom. Some plants give up on foliage production when they sense the growing season is coming to an end. They send their energy into flower production, which quickly moves toward seed heads. You can tell when a plant has decided to bolt. It quickly sends up uncharacteristically tall stems straight up, almost overnight. Plants grown for foliage that bolt at the end of the season typically do not have showy flowers, so removing them is no loss to garden aesthetics. By deadheading any beginning flower production, gardeners can fool a foliage specimen into thinking the season isn’t ending any time soon. Deadheading is a way to delay the annual life cycle of a plant, whether in the flowering phase or the seed production phase.

Deadheading Flowers