The Garden Path: Grateful deadheading

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to
prolong summer? Well, you can—at least in the garden.

Flowers are part of a plant’s normal lifecycle of growing, flowering,
producing seed, and dying. For annuals, this happens all in one season. Other
plants may produce seed and die back for the winter, but return next spring.
However, once a plant begins to produce seed it stops flowering.

Deadheading, the simple act of removing spent flowers, tricks the plant
into continuing to produce flowers instead of beginning to produce seeds.

Removing dead or dying flowers freshens up the appearance of the garden
and can actually promote the health of the plant by saving the energy it might
have taken to form seeds. It can also save you a lot of trouble in the future
if you have plants that seed themselves all over the yard. Remove flowers from
these plants before they form seed heads and you will reduce the number of
seedlings next year.

The main reason to deadhead, however, is to keep those flowers
coming. Annuals have a long bloom
period, but even that can often be extended through deadheading. Perennials
generally have a shorter bloom time, so deadheading can be very useful in
extending their bloom. Even biennials (plants with a two-year life cycle) can
be coaxed into blooming longer, although if they aren’t allowed to produce
seed, the plant will not create seedlings the following year.

There are some plants that should not be deadheaded. Plants that form
interesting seed heads, for example, can be an ornamental feature in the garden
and provide winter interest. Shrubs that develop berries (their seeds) and
plants such as coneflowers and sunflowers provide valuable food for birds.
Plants you want to propagate should be allowed to form seeds so you can harvest
them to plant next year.

Deadheading can be done with pruners, scissors, or even fingers,
depending upon the plant and the type of flower. If new flower buds are
present, make your cut just above the topmost bud. If the flower is not on a bare stalk, cut just above a leaf.
If the flower is on a bare stalk, cut just above the basal rosette (the
grouping of leaves at the base of the plant). If after all the individual
flowers are removed there is nothing left but a stick, cut it down to the base.
Plants that have flower spikes that bloom from the bottom up are best
deadheaded when about 70% of the spike is going to seed. Plants that form
masses of flowers (like Coreopsis) can be sheared.

Here is a list of plants that can be deadheaded:

Annuals
Alyssum (Clip back long stems)
Cleome (Pinch off seed capsules if
you don’t want reseeding)
Cockscomb
Coleus (Many gardeners pinch out flower
stalks as soon as they appear)
Cosmos (Pinch back hard to keep them
looking attractive)
Geranium
Lobelia (Prune back long stems
mid-summer)
Marigold
Nasturtium
Nicotiana
Pansy (Clip long stems in mid-summer)
Periwinkle (only long stems)
Petunia (Pinch out flowers, long
stems in mid-summer)
Pinks or Dianthus
Salvia
Snapdragon
Verbena
Zinnia

Perennials

Bleeding Heart
Bulbs (allow leaves to die naturally- do
not remove)
Campanula
Columbine (to prevent reseeding)
Coralbells
Coreopsis
Dames Rocket
Daylily
Delphinium
Fernleaf Yarrow (to prevent reseeding)
Flax
Hosta (for appearance)
Lupine
Marguerite Daisy
Peony (for appearance)
Phlox
Salvia
Shasta Daisy
Veronica

Have a gardening question? Ask a Master Gardener! Send your questions to chestermg@psu.edu
or call 610-696-3500. And please
visit us on Facebook (“Chester County Master Gardeners”).

* Nancy Sakaduski is the Chester County
Master Gardener Coordinator. Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who
educate the public on gardening and horticultural issues. In Chester
County, they operate through the Penn State Cooperative Extension office in
West Chester. Nancy lives in Pennsbury Township. She can be reached
at nds13@psu.edu.

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About Nancy Sakaduski

Nancy Sakaduski is a Master Gardiner with Penn State Extension of Chester County.

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