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Ask a Master Gardener: To Deadhead or Not to Deadhead (With Apologies to William Shakespeare and Jerry Garcia)

By: Melissa Wold, Mobile County Master Gardener |

Thrilled with your new plant? A plant flushed with beams of blooms ─ the diva of your garden. Thrilled, until the blooms begin to shrink, curl within themselves, turn brown. Don’t dismay as Lady Macbeth did with her “damned spot.” This is no time for doom and gloom. It is time to deadhead!


That ominous term, deadheading, means removing flowers from plants. It can be used as a means of improving the aesthetics of the plant or for the plant’s health and longevity. Deadheading makes the plant more attractive. As flowers age, most begin dropping their petals and start to dry out. Removing these petals makes the plant look less forlorn and stops the petal-falling.

Photo by Melissa Wold

Removing the old blooms can help prevent disease. Decomposing matter creates the ideal environment for fungal and bacterial issues. Disposing of these agents keeps your plants healthier and more vibrant.


Deadheading can contribute to producing more blooms. As plants shed their blossoms and start forming seed heads, their energy is focused on the production of seeds rather than on flowering. Regular pruning redirects energy into creating more blooms.


The process of deadheading can aid in preventing the spread of certain plants. Removing the flowers before they begin re-seeding can impede unwanted proliferation of the plant to other areas of your garden.


Early and frequent deadheading is optimal. Remove faded flowers as soon as they appear. A daily or weekly schedule of checking potential problems can make this chore (and no doubt, it is a chore) less time-consuming. Procrastination and delay in deadheading until later in the summer or fall can cause you to be overwhelmed.


Pinching and pruning are two common methods of deadheading. The technique depends on the plant. Pinching works well on plants with thin stems. Pinching is removing blooms with your fingers. Blossoms can be pinched or cut off the flower stem below the affected flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Wearing high-quality garden gloves is recommended to prevent abrasions and to limit exposure to any toxins.


Pruning with garden secateurs (fancy name for clippers) is ideal for larger flowers growing on woody perennials or shrubs. Make sure your pruners are sharp and can make clean cuts. You want to avoid crushing or damaging the plant’s stems. Each cut should be made back to the nearest set of healthy leaves.


Flowers growing on tall stems can be pruned individually. However, those that are small or in clusters may be difficult and certainly tedious to snip. Shearing back these plants is a good alternative. You can trim down approximately one-third of the plant, but it must be done prior to the flower re-seeding.


To deadhead or not to deadhead depends on the plant. Annuals (plants that grow, bloom and produce seed within a single season) respond well to deadheading.  The process encourages prolonged production of new buds. Deadheading plants that naturally continue to bloom throughout the growing season, revitalizes and gives you bursts of summer color.


Perennials’ response to deadheading depends on the species. Repeat bloomers are the best candidates and give out additional blooms beyond their typical flowering period.


Plants that respond well to deadheading include phlox, delphinium, sage, salvia, Shasta daisy, yarrow, coneflowers, roses, coreopsis, marigolds, day lilies, and morning glories.


Deadheading is not recommended for all plants. Impatiens and petunias are self-cleaners and naturally drop off their spent flowers. Other plants not benefiting from deadheading include grasses, sedum, begonias, cuphea, oxalis, lantana, and most flowering vines.


Deadheading may cause distress to your plant. Water generously and aerate the soil. Compost the flowers or spread around the plant for nutrients.

Photo by Melissa Wold

So, grab your clippers and crank up some Grateful Dead!

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