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To Deadhead or Not to Deadhead...

When and how to deadhead is a common question for gardeners.

Contributors: Kerry Meyer
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The phrase Deadhead has a whole different meaning for those of us who are gardeners, rather than the general public out there.  If you google either Dead Head or deadhead the search results will return information on fans of the Grateful Dead not the act of removing spent blooms from plants.  It takes typing in ‘Gardening Deadhead’ to get results that will be helpful in learning more about keeping plants in bloom.

I am often the person who answers questions sent in by gardeners and recently one of the most common questions has been when and how to deadhead specific plants.  In this article I will give a brief summary of why deadheading is sometimes necessary, how you should deadhead, and which Proven Winners® plants need deadheading.

First, what exactly is deadheading?  This gardening term simply means to remove the old spent blooms including any developing seed from a plant to help keep it blooming longer. 

Your next question is likely to be “Why does a plant bloom more if you remove old flowers?”  In the grand scheme of things flowers are meant to ensure survival of the species.  All of the various blooms that nature developed (not plant breeders) are an attempt to ensure that seeds are produced and the next generation of plants develops.  In some cases, once seed has been produced thus ensuring the survival of the species, the plant will stop blooming since there is no reason to put energy into blooming any longer. 

It was probably a gardener that figured out removing old flowers before they produce seed will keep plants blooming longer.  This can be a rather time consuming endeavor, but many times is considered a labor of love. In more recent times, plant breeders have put a lot of effort into increasing the blooming time of plants. Someone then realized that sterile plants, those that do not produce seed, will bloom continuously even when you don’t deadhead.  These plants keep on trying, unsuccessfully, to produce seed so they keep producing flowers.  Rather frustrating for the plant, but easy for the gardener. 

As time has gone on plant breeders have put a lot of effort into choosing plants that will continue to bloom without deadheading.  Sometimes this is because the flowers are sterile and sometimes it is simply because it is possible to choose plants who are prolific bloomers despite setting seed.  Proven Winners® tries to select plants that are prolific bloomers, but still are “low maintenance,” which generally means that they don’t need to be deadheaded.  Another part of “low-maintenance” refers to the fact that many of our plants are “self-cleaning”.  This simply means that wind or other factors will cause the flowers to either blow off the plant or simply melt away leaving no old flower to remove.  Now if only my car was self-cleaning!

Choosing plants that don’t need deadheading would certainly be the easiest route to continuous flowers.  However, in some cases there will be a plant you can’t do without, even though deadheading is required, or perhaps the sight of old blooms still hanging on to plants will be unsightly enough that you want to remove them anyway.  In these cases knowing how to properly deadhead will be necessary. 

In most cases, when deadheading you can simply remove the old flower by pinching off the stem just below the base of the flower.  This will remove the old flower and keep it from producing seed – the goal of deadheading.  If the flower stem is large or you don’t want to stain your fingernails green, you may find using pruning shears or scissors to be a better choice.  Please note that simply pulling off the dead flower petals without removing the developing seed pod does not increase flower production since the seeds will still develop.

Any flower can be removed just above the first leaf below the flower head without affecting the rest of the plant.  For plants with larger stems removing just the flower may leave an ugly stem exposed.  Cutting just above the first leaf, will remove the unsightly stem as well as the flower.  This is also the preferred method of deadheading for plants that bloom with spikes of flowers.  New research has recently shown that even roses flower more prolifically when old flowers are removed just above the first leaf below the flower rather than at the first set of 5 leaves (this is the standard method promoted by most people).

For many gardeners deadheading is a time consuming chore they simply don’t have the time to perform.  Some newer varieties of plants that used to have to be deadheaded, for instance Supertunia® petunias, are tailor made for these time-starved gardeners.  However, there are gardeners that find deadheading to be a great excuse to spend time in the garden, a time honored tradition, a way to relax at the end of a busy day or even a Zen-like activity.  If you are a gardener who enjoys deadheading, never fear.  Even though the plants may no longer need deadheading to bloom continuously, doing so will not harm the plants.  Feel free to remove as many spent flowers as you wish.

While a good rule of thumb is always nice to have, a list of how to deadhead specific plants is also useful.  Below is a quick rundown of our Proven Winners plants and some notes on deadheading.

Deadheading not necessary for Continuous Bloom 

Ageratum Artist® – they will “bury their dead” (this simply means the new flowers will quickly cover the old flowers) so no dead heading is necessary.  This is not true of other series of Ageratum.

Angelonia Angelface® - self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Anisodontea Slightly Strawberry – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Argyranthemum – removing old blooms may improve appearance.

Bidens – The petals are self cleaning, however, seed heads persist and removing them can improve appearance.  Deadheading will not improve flower production.

Bracteantha Sundaze® – removing old blooms may improve appearance

Calibrachoa Superbells® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Chrysocephalum Flambe® Yellow – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Cleome Spirit - deadheading will improve bloom and decrease seedling occurrence in your garden. 

Cleome Señorita Rosalita® - the plants are seed sterile, self-cleaning, deadheading isn’t necessary

Diascia Flying Colors® and Flirtation® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Euphorbia Hybrid Diamond Frost® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Euphorbia Efanthia, Helen’s Blush, Kalipso – These plants begin blooming in early spring and by late spring to early summer they are done.  Deadheading won’t keep them blooming longer.  However, removing the old flowers once the plant has finished blooming will encourage the plant to branch more and the next spring you should see an increase in flowers thanks to a better branched plant.

Gaura Stratosphere® and Karalee® – each flowering stem adds blooms, continuously to the end of the spike. As time goes on the flowering stems can get rather long and tangled.  Although deadheading isn’t necessary for continued blooming you may find that you prefer to trim back some of the flowering stems at some point in mid-summer.  This will encourage new flowering stems to emerge.  Flowers will be closer to the foliage and the plant will look tidier.  If you choose, you can trim all the flower stems off at once, however, you should then expect a 2 to 3 week period without flowers.

Heliotropium Simply Scentsational® - self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Heuchera Dolce® – They begin blooming in early spring.  Deadheading won’t keep them blooming longer.  However, removing the flower stems once the plant has finished blooming will keep them looking tidier.

Impatiens Rockapulco® - self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Impatiens Infinity® - self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lamium Pink Chablis® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lantana Luscious® – self cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lobelia Laguna and Lucia® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lobularia Snow Princess® - self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Mecardonia GoldDust – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Nierembergia Augusta® Blue Skies – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Nemesia – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Osteospermum Soprano and Symphony – “bury their dead”

Oxalis Charmed® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Petunia Supertunia® – self-cleaning, no deadheading necesary, this is not necessarily true of all Petunias.  You may want to remove old blooms of Supertunia® doubles since these larger flowers sometimes remain on the plant.  Leaving them will not affect flowering.

Phlox Intensia® - self-cleaning, no deadheading needed, this may not be true of all phlox.

Sanvitalia Sunbini® – “buries its dead”

Scaevola Whirlwind® and New Wonder® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Sedum Garnet Brocade® – the seed heads will remain on this summer to fall blooming plant.  Removing them will not keep the plant blooming longer.  Many people consider the seed heads to be attractive and will allow them to remain on the plant throughout the winter before removing them as part of their garden spring cleaning.

Solenostemon Coleus ColorBlaze® - Coleus are grown for foliage, our plants are selected to bloom late in the season because blooming usually signals a decrease in foliage quality.  Removal of flower spikes will help keep the foliage looking good.

Sutera Snowstorm®– self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Torenia Catalina® and Summer Wave® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Verbena Babylon®, Tukana® and Superbena® - self cleaning, no deadheading needed

Patent Info:  Garnet Brocade Sedum (Hylotelephium) hybrid 'Garbro' PP: 16350 Can.: 2723; New Wonder® Scaevola aemula 'Newon' PP: 10584 Can.: 1710; Sunbini Sanvitalia 'Starbini Superbini' PP: 17869 Can.: 2827; Augusta® Blue Skies Nierembergia hybrid 'USNRB1201' PP: 21662 Can.: 4141; GoldDust Mecardonia hybrid 'USMECA8205' PPAF Can. PBRAF; Snow Princess® Lobularia hybrid 'Inlbusnopr' PP: 21594 Can. Can.: 4189; Pink Chablis® Lamium maculatum 'Checkin' PP: 17925; Simply Scentsational® Heliotropium hybrid 'USHTRP0303' PP: 21681 Can.: 4140; Karalee® Petite Pink Gaura lindheimeri 'Star Pink' PP: 19496 Can.: 3424; Helena's Blush Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid 'Inneuphhel' PP: 17555 Can.: 2829; Kalipso Euphorbia hybrid 'Imprkalip' PP: 16948 Can.: 2726; Efanthia Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid 'Imprefant' PP: 16908 Can.: 2725;  Diamond Frost® Euphorbia hybrid 'Inneuphdia' PP: 17567 Can.: 2830; Senorita Rosalita® Cleome hybrid 'Inncleosr' PP: 19733 Can. Can.: 3290; Flambe® Yellow Chrysocephalum apiculatum 'Flochryel' PP: 19175 Can.: 3280; Slightly Strawberry Anisodontea hybrid 'Nuanilainp' PP: 21393

Readers Rated This: 12345 (3.2)
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 07/20/2014 - 3:06pm

KERRY, I HAVEN'T HEARD FROM YOU IN TWO YEARS. IS THAT LITTLE ONE TAKING ALL YOUR TIME.
al@alpine-hbs.com

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 09/12/2013 - 1:30pm

I live in St. Louis and planted a couple of trumpet vines at the base of my pergola in a 10" patch of ground between a concrete sidewalk brick patio which sits atop 4" of chat and 2" of sand. They flowered a little the first summer season and have gone crazy since. I planted another at the base of a trellis which I have to continually cut back during the growing season. My question deals with the large banana shaped seedpods. Will it have any effect if I trim them?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Dan

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 08/01/2013 - 9:29am

You've been reading my mind. At one of the local library branches, there is a community garden with my favorite Cecile de Brunner roses. They finally got around to deadheading which quickly brought on a new flush of blooms. My hands were itching to do it, but I thought along the old "down to the 5 leaf" method or thought they were keeping the rosehips on for birds to eat. I guess I'm just going to have to join the garden to become the regular rose deadheader. What about keeping seed heads on different plants for the birds to eat? I guess you'd just have to see which seed heads the birds go after and keep those on?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 07/30/2013 - 2:39pm

You said not to deadhead Lantana - but what about those little 'balls' they get after blooming? I've always deadheaded them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 06/13/2013 - 1:27pm

I am just now reading this article and it was EXTREMELY helpful to me. I am a novice gardener and can't believe how much I don't know. So you see, the worth of this article just goes on and on!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 08/01/2012 - 7:50pm

I have the Picasso Supertunias in hanging pots on my porch. My question is whether or not I can cut them back and they will still grow more. They're getting leggy and the leggy parts aren't flowering as much as they were before. With the heat, I'm watering them just about every day. Some of the flowers always look wilted though, even though I do deadhead. Suggestions?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 06/27/2012 - 8:14pm

Should irises be deadheaded? And if so, how far? Thank you for sharing all of your gardening knowledge! :)

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 06/24/2012 - 10:26am

You didn't mention Leucanthemum Shasta Daisy in the list - I have Becky and the new Banana Cream - how to deadhead those?

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/27/2012 - 1:52pm

Deadheading will keep them blooming longer.  How you deadhead is basically the same for all plants.  Remove the old flower head along the stem (not just the petals of the flower).  To promote blooming all you need to do is remove the flower.  However, if you prefer to remove more stem for a tidier look you can do so.

Kerry

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 06/21/2012 - 12:30pm

I certinally appreciate any bit of information I can get to help me with my gardening. My dad was the gardener in our family and the last thing he said to me before he passed on my 16th birthday was to "take care of my garden". 35yrs later, I am still trying.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/27/2012 - 1:23pm

I am so sorry to hear that your father passed away when you were so young.  I am sure he would be very proud that you've taken his comment to heart and became a life long gardener.  What a great tribute to your dad.

Kerry

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 06/20/2012 - 4:43pm

Great article! Thanks Kerry.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/27/2012 - 1:25pm

Thank you.  I'm glad you liked it!

Kerry

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 06/20/2012 - 3:12pm

Thank you for this informative article. I still like to deadhead lantana, verbena and petunias...very relaxing and keeps the plants tidy. Always look forward to receiving your emails and articles.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/27/2012 - 1:25pm

I'm glad the article was helpful and that you enjoy the newsletter.  I enjoy writing it.

Kerry

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/18/2012 - 8:56pm

Thank you for this valuable piece of information!

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 11:57am

I'm  glad you found the information helpful.  Deadheading can be confusing and it is always nice to know what plants need it and which ones are fine without.

Kerry

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/18/2012 - 7:28pm

Thank you soooo much for the valuable information. I have been a gardener for most of my 71 years and still have a lot to learn. I find gardening the most relaxing and spritual yet stimulating activity. I enjoy reading all of your articles.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 11:58am

Thank you for those very kind comments.  I'm glad you find the articles and other information helpful.  I always try to make it understandable for new gardeners and valuable for all gardeners.  I'm betting after 71 years of gardening you could teach me more than a few things and tell some very good stories about the trials and joys of gardening! 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:12pm

My only disagreement is with the verbena's. I think they do much better, and look nicer if they are deadheaded. I use a small pair of scissors and clip them daily. They may be self-cleaning, but don't look cared for. Now--petunias are a different story, so glad to not be deadheading those anymore, especially since the supertunias do so well. Love the new citrus yellow ones, gives a nice mellow look especially with bright pink verbenas. Pixie Hedlund, Canton MI

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:20pm

Pixie,

Verbena can certainly vary and often you'll get more blooms with deadheading, but will still get decent blooming without it.  You are right, deadheading can certainly make them more prolific bloomers.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/18/2012 - 9:42am

Do you recommend deadheading drift rose? I have the peach drift roses. And, if so, do you suggest to deadhead it at the first leaf? Please advise. Thanks!

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:23pm

I checked on the Conard Pyle (rose breeder) website and they say that deadheading isn't necessary, but encourages re-blooming.  If you do deadhead I would do so at the first leaf below the old flower.  Here is a link to the web info:  http://www.conard-pyle.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/drhome.showpage/pageID/8....

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 6:52pm

Thanks for the information I do love to deadhead some of my flowers

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:23pm

I'm glad you found it helpful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 3:22pm

Excellent article. Very informative.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:24pm

Thank you.  I'm glad you found it helpful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 1:42pm

Thank you so much for the information on deadheading my Petunias.
I have been removing the old bloom and leaving the seedpods.
You have set me straight and I thank you.
This is my first year with Proven Winners and will not be my last.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:25pm

I'm glad I was able to help you with this gardening task.  I would hate to think you were taking all of the time to deadhead and not getting the enhanced performance. 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 12:24pm

What about pansies ? Should you deadhead these or leave them alone

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/14/2014 - 10:31am

If they're planned en masse they don't need it. But if they're in a smaller container they do for best appearance.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:25pm

You can leave pansies alone, they will bloom without deadheading.  However, if you want to deadhead, you can.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 11:30am

What about clematis? Will deadheading help to increase the number of second blooms? kfcr

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:33pm

I did a bit of looking on the internet and it depends on which clematis you have.  These websites should be helpful:

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/clematis/msg05091524521.html

http://www.herbs2000.com/flowers/c_care.htm

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 9:55am

Great article and very timely
Still like to dead head all petunias as you said
Almost a relaxing duty
Also let's me teach grandchildren about
Flowers
Keep up the great work

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:34pm

Any excuse to get the grandchildren into the garden and loving flowers is great! 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 12:57am

Thanks much for the information re deadheading. Our local master gardeners take care of a number of community gardens, some with many visitors. Because we want to put our best green thumb forward, makes a difference as to how we deadhead. Specifically, removing the whole stem to the first leaf rather than just the seed head aethetically looks better in public gardens. The information re specific plants is very helpful. S Curtis, Flint, MI

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:36pm

Taking the time to deadhead back to the first leaf below the flower does often sometimes make a big difference in appearance.  It sounds like your Master Gardeners are a talented and dedicated group.  You are lucky to have such a great resource in your community.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 12:39am

do I need to dead head azaleas?

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:40pm

Deadheading won't usually promote additional blooming in azaleas, but it can help tidy the plants.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/16/2012 - 12:21am

This was helpful. I learned some things I didn't know!

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:40pm

I'm glad you found it helpful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 06/15/2012 - 11:32pm

I am a deadheader! I love it and make sure I plant lots of petunias so I can get outside.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:40pm

Any excuse to get into the garden is a good excuse:-)

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 06/15/2012 - 10:58pm

Thank you for this article - great info.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:41pm

I'm glad you found it helpful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 06/15/2012 - 10:31pm

Excellent article. I knew some of the information but a lot was new and interesting!

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:41pm

Thank you.  I'm glad you found it helpful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 06/15/2012 - 9:02pm

Perfect timing for this article. Very helpful

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:41pm

I'm glad you found it useful.

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