Deadhead Your Flowers And They'll Produce More Flowers

What is deadheading?

It’s the process of cutting off flowers that are past their prime and are now busy forming their seeds.  It allows the plant to keep producing good cutting flowers. Let’s take a look at the process the plant goes through to see why deadheading is a good idea.

When you deadhead your flowers they'll bloom more

The sole purpose of a flower is to attract its pollinators and get pollinated. Once that happens the flowers starts to develop its seeds and the fruit that surrounds it.

It also sends a hormonal signal to the rest of the plant that says there has been success in generating offspring. This hormone tells the plant that it does not have to keep putting as much energy into flowering. So it slows the flowering down.

That is the basic process flowering plants go through. Obviously the amount of flowering differs from plant to plant anyway, and there’s a difference between annuals and perennials.

But keep this in mind as you watch your flowers. Cut them before they start to set seed. And the best thing to do is to keep any of them from setting seed until you’re done cutting them for the season.

Of course, deadheading will keep your plants looking neater, too.

When to deadhead

If you haven’t harvested all the flowers you want, any that are starting to form seeds should be cut. It can be hard because the flowers are probably attracting pollinators, some of which are also beneficial insects for your garden. So you may have to find a happy medium of letting them bloom for a little while before removing.

Some flowers, especially annuals, bloom over the whole summer. Those need some constant attention in deadheading. Flowers like zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers will benefit from deadheading.

Many perennials can bloom both early and late in the season. That second bloom is encouraged by cutting the early flowers and preventing them from forming seeds.

But sometimes deadheading perennials must include cutting more than the flowers. For some, the stems are long and thick and the entire thing needs to be removed. My flower descriptions include whether a second bloom can occur, and deadheading the first bloom, big stems and all, would be required for that repeat bloom.

How to deadhead

For many flowers, especially annuals, flowers to be deadheaded should be cut in the same place that you would if you were to cut it for harvest. That is as low on the stem as you need to remove all flowers that need removing. But you’ll keep the stems that are long enough with buds.

In other words, cut the stem down to the next set of healthy leaves or buds. If you cut lower, side shoots will form longer and stronger stems for the next buds.

If you will be going on vacation and want to keep your garden flowers blooming longer, deadhead all the flowers. This prevents them from forming seed while you’re away and you will enjoy the harvest when you get back.

Don’t do this when you deadhead

So this all means you will cut the stems with the flower. I have seen people cut off just the flowers…and leave the stems like naked stubs sticking up…Ugh. 

Shasta daisy is a perennial that needs to have its whole stem cut all the way down to allow a second bloom. I’ve seen people just cut the flowers off, leaving…the stubs, 2 feet in the air. Yes, they’re green and have some leaves. And you may even get a couple of short-stemmed flowers. But more than a passing glance will reveal the stubs. Yuck.

So once that first flush of flowers starts to wane, hard as it may be, you must cut those stems all the way down to the basal foliage at the bottom. Unless you live in a very short season area, you most likely will have a decent second bloom. If you don’t, at least your plant will look attractive with nice foliage. Not tall standing stubs.

You can consider keeping some of your flowers on the plant for the pollinators. They will be so happy! Choose the flowers and allow them to fully flower, offering their pollen and nectar till the end. Deadhead these, too, but they’ll just be on the plant longer, so you’ll get less cutting flowers overall from them.

In a nutshell…

Remember that when flowers get pollinated, they signal to the whole plant that there’s success in procreating. The plant responds by putting less energy into flowering and more into seed production. This varies in intensity from plant to plant.

To keep the plant flowering we must remove the flowers before their pollination is too far along. This way the plant keeps putting energy into flowering. They do work so hard for us, so treat them to some extra compost during this bloom time to be nice and keep them happy.

For some perennials to have a second flush of blooms, deadheading will mean cutting the stems down to the foliage. But for some, like roses, they will be cut down to a lower set of leaves.

When deadheading, cut the stems down to the lowest node of leaves that will bring forth the next round of buds with decent stems.

For roses, cut down to a set of 5 leaflets, lower is even better for a longer stem.

But do not cut the flower off and leave a stub sticking up. Please. No stubs.

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