Once you know how to deadhead flowers, you can get more blooms on your petunias, daisies, echinacea, and other favorite plants throughout the growing season.
Need help selecting the best tool for the job? Check out this guide for choosing the right pruner and more.
What is Deadheading?
Want to get more flowers and a better-looking garden? Deadheading—the select removal of old flowers and their stems—can help.
First, knowing the basic life cycle of a flowering plant will make deadheading easy to understand.
Flowering plants have one goal: to survive long enough to produce seeds that in turn create new flowering plants.
When flowers are pollinated, one cycle stops and another begins. Flowers begin to die off and seeds begin to form.
Deadheading is simply the removal of any dead or dying flowers (and the ovaries where the seeds develop) to stop seed production. We generally snip off the stem as well, down to the nearest leaves.
With the ovary gone, the plant resumes flower production. Or so the theory goes. Removing old flowers may not alter the plant’s flowering cycle—but it will definitely improve the appearance and a good pruning or cutting back will induce new lateral shoots. Any other forming flowers will carry on.
This is a generalized overview and there are many nuances for different plant species, but in general, a dying flower means it’s time to deadhead if desired.
Reasons to Deadhead
Deadheading Versus Pruning
- Deadheading is the removal of finished flowers and their stems down to the nearest leaves.
- Pruning is the removal or cutting back of stems or branches on shrubs, vines, and trees.
Deadheading encourages new flower growth for continuous blooms throughout the growing season. I’ve listed plant examples below.
While it’s not proven that deadheading alters a plant’s blooming cycle, there is no disputing that a good deadheading and pruning is good for looks and inducing lateral shoots on many plants. Plus, by stopping seed production, more energy is available for new flowers.
Deadheading can improve the look of your garden. Daisies are a good example: gorgeous in bloom but an eyesore when dead and dying.
Deadheading can prevent unwanted reseeding.
August is a busy time for deadheading in my garden. Many of the summer blooms are looking tired but there is still time to more flowers to form before fall.
Later, as the weather cools, I stop deadheading to allow seed production both so plants can self-seed and I can collect seeds for future seed starting. I do this with blanket flowers (Gaillardia) foxgloves (Digitalis), columbines (Aquilegia), delphiniums, coneflowers (Echinacea), and more.
If a plant is overzealous with its seeds, I may cut it right back in fall to prevent future problems.
Seeds are also an important fatty food source for winter birds so consider leaving what’s there at the end of season until spring.
Pick the Right Tool for the Job
You can deadhead with regular pruners but there is a better tool for the job.
These Curved Blade Pruning Snips by Fiskars are perfect for deadheading.
I’m very prone to hand pain but that is not a problem with these super lightweight snips.
They are small and the gentle spring-back action does all the work for me. I used to deadhead with pruners but the micro tip on these snips is more precise and easier to use.
How to Deadhead
Perennials that May Re-bloom After Deadheading
- Achillea (yarrow)
- Alcea rosea (hollyhock)
- Aquilegia (columbine)
- Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
- Begonia grandis (hardy begonia)
- Buddleia (butterfly bush)
- Centaurea montana (Mountain bluet)
- Coreopsis (tickseed)
- Dianthus (Sweet William)
- Digitalis (foxglove)
- Echinacea (coneflower)
- Echinops ritro (globe thistle)
- Gaillardia (blanket flower)
- Gypsophila paniculata (Baby’s breath)
- Heliopsis (false sunflowers)
- Helenium (sneezeweed)
- Leucanthemum (shasta daisy)
- Lychnis coronaria (rose campion)
- Monarda (bee balm)
- Scabiosa (pincushion flowers)
- Sidalcea malviflora (mallow)
- Veronica (speedwell)
- Veronicastrum virginicum (culver’s root)
When deadheading, we want to remove the old flower and ovary, and some or all of the stem.
Always clean your tools before and after deadheading and after handling any diseased plants.
I keep a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol (70%) with my garden tools for this purpose.
Single flower on a stem
- Follow the stem from the top (flower) down to the next leaves.
- Snip immediately above this point.
Multiple flowers on a stem
- As individual flowers begin to wither, snip below seed ovary—on many plants it’s a bulbous part just below the flower petals.
- Snip off entire stem when all flowers are done, either down to a pair of leaves or a main stem.
- Haircut time! With hundreds or thousands of tiny flowers, a plant like ground phlox can be sheared. Remove all the old flowers and a portion of the stems.
QAre there plants I should not deadhead?
It depends on your goal. You can always remove old flowers but for some plants it will not trigger more blooms.
Some popular annuals are either sterile and do not produce seeds and/or provide continuous blooms for much of the growing season without the need to deadhead.
Supertunias by Proven Winners are one example.
Daylilies are another example—removing the flower will not bring another in its place.
And some perennials are very slow to re-flower or will not at all.
But, for looks, it’s fine to snip off old blooms.
Ideally, know what you are growing and determine your deadheading routine on a plant-by-plant basis.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
This article was originally sponsored by Fiskars who also provided tool samples for me to test.