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Deadheading – Yay or Nay?

by Paul James

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the term deadheading. It was in the late 70s, and it curiously coincided with the moment I decided that the Grateful Dead was the most overrated band of the era.

Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers. It’s not something you have to do, but in some cases it’s worth doing.

Many flowering plants will rebloom after deadheading. After all, the evolutionary goal of flowering plants is to set seed, so by deadheading you encourage those plants to produce even more flowers. Another reason to deadhead is to prevent plants that reproduce readily from seed from taking over your garden.

Now if you’ve got three or four Coreopsis, then deadheading two or three times during the growing season with pruners or scissors or a flick of the thumb is no big deal. But if you’ve got a few dozen plants, then you’ve got your work cut out for you.

So make no mistake – deadheading can be a tedious, if not downright daunting task, which is why plant breeders are developing so-called “self-cleaning” hybrids that don’t require deadheading, either because the foliage and new flowers hide the old ones, or because wind actually removes the flowers from the plant.

At the end of the day, the decision to deadhead comes down to whether you’re a neat freak or not. If you like things orderly, manicured, and maintained, then by all means deadhead all you want. But if you think neatness is overrated, feel free to skip the process altogether. And by not deadheading, you can take heart in knowing that your garden will become a haven for songbirds that’ll quickly devour the seeds left on your plants.

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6 responses to “Deadheading – Yay or Nay?”

  1. Julie says:

    So do you pull the old bloom off the stem or cut the bloom and stem at a junction?

    • Paul James says:

      You can do either, actually. Cutting back to the leaf junction will give you a cleaner look.

  2. Richard says:

    More than just removing old blooms, will it help/hurt the plant to cut it back to control growth. I had to really trim back my mums because they were wanting to bloom before July.

    • Paul James says:

      It depends on the plant, but generally it’s fine to cut back growth to control the size of the plant. You were right to trim your mums. There’s still plenty of time for them to set new flower buds.

  3. Mary Sharp says:

    Do you recommend dead heading hydrangeas?

    • Paul James says:

      It’s up to you, Mary. The dried flowers look great in arrangements, but ultimately you should remove the spent flowers to make the plants look a bit more tidy.