A Guide to Deadheading Flowers in Your Garden

by Chris Lambton

Keeping your garden and yard lush and full of beautiful blooms all season long may seem like a daunting chore, but I promise you...it's really not all that difficult. Even novice gardeners can quickly learn how to deadhead plants to encourage more growth and just about guarantee an extended blooming season.

A Guide to Deadheading Flowers in Your Garden

If you're wondering what is deadheading a plant and how does it keep your flowers blooming, read on.

In this article, you'll learn:


What Does It Mean to Deadhead Flowers?

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Deadheading refers to simply removing the dead flower heads from your plants. If you're new to the world of gardening and wondering just how do you deadhead a flower, I've got good news for you...deadheading is easy! And, removing spent flowers has multiple benefits. Not only does the process clean up a plant's appearance, but it also controls the spread of seeds and encourages your flowers and plants to continue to grow thicker and fuller than before. If performed on a regular basis, this basic garden task doesn't require much time or thought. I like to deadhead plants while talking on the phone or watering the garden – I actually find it to be a relaxing experience (and rewarding, believe it or not...when I'm done and the end result is a crisp, clean, tapered and tailored garden, it was more than worth the time in the sun).

How to Deadhead Flowers

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If you dread the process of keeping your flowers pruned and deadheaded, try not to think about the overwhelming task of doing it all at once. Instead, break your yard up into sections and do a little bit at a time. You may find the process enjoyable and peaceful. Whenever you have a few extra minutes, just head out to the garden to perform a bit of deadheading maintenance, once area at a time. I like to keep my Fiskars® SoftGrip® Micro-Tip® Pruning Snips, Fiskars® PowerGear2™ Pruner and a small bucket handy. When you're ready, just follow these steps:

1. Time your deadheading. You actually don't have to worry about timing when deadheading flowers. This garden chore can (and should) happen throughout the growing season, from spring to fall. You can deadhead flowers any time they begin to fade. This is easy to see in single flowers on single stems. Plants with multiple blooms on a stem, such as delphinium, begonias and salvia, should be deadheaded once 70 percent of the blooms have faded.

How often to deadhead depends on the specific plant and the weather. Towards the end of summer and into fall, you may want to allow certain plants the opportunity to go to seed. Some plants have attractive seed heads and provide food to wildlife in the cooler months.

2. Choose a deadhead cutting point.Choosing the point to deadhead may seem confusing. If you cut close to the bottom of the bloom, chances are you will be left with a dry and unattractive stem. Where to deadhead or prune a plant can change depending on the species. For a basic rule of thumb, deadhead your spent flowers and stems back to ¼ inch above a new lateral flower, lateral leaf or bud. This encourages new growth and healthy foliage.

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3. Make the deadhead cut. Although some plants can simply be pinched, I like to use my Micro-Tip Snips to deadhead most plants. They give me the ability to quickly reach into a plant and make a clean, tidy cut with minimal damage to the plant.

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Larger, woody stems, such as roses, may require a stronger tool. For these plants, I turn to my PowerGear2™ Pruners for clean, sharp cuts. Larger stems should be cut at a 45-degree angle. This reduces the risk of disease or damage.

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4. Cleaning up quickly and easily.The main point of deadheading plants is to make your flower beds look amazing – so don't drop your spent blooms on the ground. It's just as easy to collect them in a small bucket for disposal in your compost pile.

5. Fertilize for continued growth. Deadheading flowers and pruning encourages new growth. Remember to keep a regular fertilizer schedule so your plants continue growing strong and healthy. Annuals are especially heavy feeders. Standard water-soluble fertilizers with balanced numbers will provide all the essentials your flowers need for continued blooming.

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Why Do I Need to Deadhead My Flowers?

Flowering plants serve many purposes beyond simply brightening our landscapes with a rainbow of colors. A blossom's nectar and pollen provide forage to pollinators like bees, butterflies, beetles and birds. The plant itself may even provide a safe sanctuary and habitat for wildlife. And after your pretty blooms fade away, the fruits, berries and nuts that follow feed both wildlife and people.

The primary goal of a plant is to propagate. While we think of just the flowers as the reward for a well-cared for plant, the plant itself is playing an important role for future generations. The seeds that plants produce carry the genetic material that allows them to produce new generations year after year. So, once a plant has produced a round of successfully pollinated flowers, it begins to focus its resources on developing seeds. Both annuals and perennials put their energy into producing seeds to ensure the survival of their species.

From the plant's perspective, these seed containers – nuts, berries and fruits – hold the genetic material that allows the plant to produce progeny. So after your pretty plant has bloomed with a gorgeous round of flowers that's pollinated successfully, it then shifts its focus and resources toward developing those seeds. For food producing crops, this is most obvious. After all, isn't the goal to have luscious tomatoes, plump pumpkins, protein-rich sunflower seeds and sweet apples? But, when plants like petunias and roses stop blooming in early summer, it's time to eradicate the deadheads to re-invigorate your sweet plant and encourage it to flower again. And so the process of deadheading begins.

Flowers That Benefit from Deadheading

Not all flowers require deadheading. Peony, liatris and most bulbs will only produce one round of flowers per season. Most flowering vines, periwinkle and impatiens do not need deadheading. The annuals and perennials that respond well to deadheading and will reward you with a full flower all season long include several of my favorite bloomers. My deadheading flowers list includes:

  • Zinnia
  • Cosmos
  • Marigolds
  • Delphiniums
  • Hollyhocks
  • Marguerite daisy
  • Hardy geraniums
  • Petunias
  • Snapdragons
  • Roses
  • Blanket Flowers
  • Bee balms
  • Campanulas
  • Sweet peas
  • Salvia


Deadheading Annuals vs. Perennials

Although many annuals and perennials can be deadheaded by just removing spent blooms, there are a few deadheading techniques that are best suited to perennials.

Cutting Back Perennials

A few mounding perennials, such as Coreopsis and Perennial Salvia, start declining in appearance no matter how often you deadhead. A hard pruning, also known as cutting back, can give plants a fresh start and keep your garden looking clean and tidy. I like to wait until after the majority of the blooms have faded to cut back my mounding perennials. The easiest way to cut back perennials is to use my PowerGear2™ Hedge Shears to cut the entire plant about 2 inches above the ground.

Pinching Back Perennials

Although you aren't technically deadheading plants, pinching back certain fall-blooming perennials during the growing season will encourage lush and full growth. Fall mums, for example, respond extremely well to pinching back. While it's technically called "pinching back," you're actually cutting the growing tips plus approximately 3 inches of growth. I like to give my mums three cuttings: in the spring when the plants are 8 to 10 inches tall, again at summer solstice and finally on the 4th of July. Once they bloom, regularly deadheading your mums will keep them looking beautiful. Other perennials benefitting from pinching back include common yarrow, cardinal flower and goldenrod.