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To Deadhead or Not to Deadhead...

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

Contributors: Kerry Meyer

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

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

Diascia  Flirtation® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

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

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.

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

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 – 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 Tukana® and Superbena® - self cleaning, no deadheading needed

Patent Info:   New Wonder® Scaevola aemula 'Newon' PP: 10584 Can.: 1710; Sunbini Sanvitalia 'Starbini Superbini' PP: 17869 Can.: 2827;  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

524 Readers Rated This: 12345 (3.3)
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 06/07/2018 - 8:04am

I've planted wave petunias in pots. It's only been 3 weeks but they don't seem to be filling out, just getting leggy. I have been deadheading them. I know it says you don't have to, but deadheading is my favourite part of gardening. Haha I find it relaxing. My pots just look mangy, what can I do to get that full spilling over with blooms look?

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Fri, 06/22/2018 - 11:05am

Hi there,
You might want to cut back the bits that are leggy. Usually, July is when the cutting back occurs. Around the 4th of July, (after your big party) get some of the slow release fertilizer that you bought in spring and re-apply across the top of the planter. At the same time, trim back some of the longer branches just enough to bring the plant back in line with the bottom of the pot or basket. Don't remove too much at the maximum cut back 20% of the branches or 1 in five shoots. You can also just give it a general light trim. Your plant will be out of flower for a few days, but will come back stronger than ever. By now with July's heat you should be watering at least every other day and begin to fertilize every other watering.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 05/28/2018 - 5:38pm

Hi. I know you posted the Symphony and Soprano don't need to be cleaned up. What about the "Blue-eyes"? I just love the plant and to not have to deadhead would make me love it more!

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Fri, 06/22/2018 - 10:54am

Hi there,
blue eyes is not a Proven Winners, so I would recommend contacting the company who grows them. They will be able to tell you more about the specific plant.
Thanks!
Sarah
Proven Winners

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 05/27/2018 - 3:25pm

I love to see and smell my moonflowers my porch looks and smells so sweet at night .. Should I deadhead them to get more blooms. I never thought to do them and can I plant morning glories with them to have blooms in the Day time too. Thank you. So much for all the information you give everyone it helps us all.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Fri, 08/03/2018 - 8:12am

I don't think you need to deadhead your moonflowers, but doing so want harm the plant.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 04/24/2018 - 7:35am

Hi, I'm new to gardening for my husbands business, my question is when we get our plugs that we just received and i planted everything, I was told to remove all flowers as they start blooming untill there planted in ground the first weekend of June to make the plant thicker, does this stay true to all the hanging baskets of supertunias if we are selling them on memorial weekend, or should i keep them just growing without deadheading ,thankyou Jodi

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Fri, 06/22/2018 - 11:07am

Hi there,
You shouldn't have to deadhead your Supertunias.
Thanks!
Sarah
PW

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 04/19/2018 - 8:15pm

Kerry, I was so glad to have found your very informative article on deadheading. I have been a gardner for many years, but I still have so much to learn and deadheading was one of them.
Thankyou for the time you spent helping so many of us. I would love to see more pieces from you.
Karen

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 08/25/2017 - 6:30am

Great article.
Could you tell me about coneflowers? Do I need to deadhead?
Thank you
Judy

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Wed, 10/04/2017 - 4:26pm

Judy,

 

It isn't necessary to deadhead, the plants will be fine.  Deadheading could, however, increase how long they flower.  Is is good in the fall or spring to trim back the dead flowering stems before the plants start growing again in the spring.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/07/2017 - 9:50am

Should it be deadheaded ? This is my 1st time to grow these ! Boy oh boy do they ever bloom, I just enjoy having them . Thanks for your time , I haven't been able to find my answer any where !

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Mon, 07/17/2017 - 11:29am

Nope! It is not necessary to deadhead them.
Happy Gardening!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 05/24/2017 - 9:27pm

Would deadheading a Rose of Sharon keep it from blooming the next year on those branches? Only blooming on new growth. Have I ruined my tree?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Fri, 05/26/2017 - 7:37am

Nope, no worries! Roses of Sharon blooms only on new wood so that's totally normal. 

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Fri, 05/26/2017 - 7:37am

Nope, no worries! Roses of Sharon blooms only on new wood so that's totally normal. 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 07/07/2016 - 10:38am

I put it in 2 years ago, it has 4 stocks, about 3' high. Last year it didn't bloom , now this year it has dozens of small buds , yet to bloom. Is there something I need to do, or am I too anxious to see it blooming ? Anyone have an idea?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 08/15/2016 - 12:15pm

I was always told: 1st - 2nd year the plant is crawling
2nd year it will walk
3rd year it takes off running

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 06/23/2016 - 6:35am

Great article. Could you please tell me about Bacopa. Are they self-cleaning or should they be deadheaded?
Thanks for any information that you may share.
Theresa

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Fri, 06/24/2016 - 9:47am

Bacopas are self-cleaning, and no deadheading is necessary. They are very easy to maintain, and require part sun to sun.

If you would like to know more, here is a great little video about Bacopa:
https://www.provenwinners.com/videos/home-gardener-proven-winners-snowstorm-giant-snowflake-sutera

And this is a link to Snowstorm® Snow Globe® Bacopa Sutera hybrid:
https://www.provenwinners.com/plants/sutera/snowstorm-snow-globe-bacopa-sutera-hybrid

Bacopa looks great in combinations too! Hope this helped!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 06/18/2016 - 11:15am

Hello I have a lot of the superpetunias. Can you explain why these hybrids DON"T need deadheading? Whereas regular ones do?

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Mon, 06/20/2016 - 11:27am

When we trial plants before introducing them, we do not deadhead them.  One of our selection criteria for annuals is that they bloom all summer.  Since we don't deadhead during trials, we effectively select for plants that don't need to be deadheaded to bloom all summer.  Sometimes the plants bloom all summer because they don't set seed, sometimes they bloom all summer despite prolifically setting seed.  The reason they bloom all summer without deadheading isn't all that important to us, their not needing deadheading is what is important.

You can deadhead themif you want, but it truy isn't necessary to keep them blooming all summer long.  

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 06/12/2016 - 8:13pm

This Clematis is full of blooms in late May to mid-June. Can I extend the blooming period by deadheading the plant?

Jennifer Eifel's picture
Jennifer Eifel Mon, 06/13/2016 - 10:09am

Kerry posted this response to another question about Clematis:
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

Happy Gardening!
Jennifer
Proven Winners

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 05/01/2016 - 2:21pm

Do I deadhead Princess bush as soon as flower dies or leave it. It looks as if another flower is forming there and I don't want to prune off buds? Thank you.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Tue, 05/24/2016 - 10:14am

You shouldn't need to deadhead it.  This link has a great, easy to understand, run down on care for the Princess bush.  Here is a link:  http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/princess-flower-bush/growing-princess-flower.htm.

 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 08/09/2015 - 2:31pm

I plant scaveola every year in a bed that is mostly all sun (live in MD and have springlike through brutally hot weather). Almost every year a lose a couple of these plants even while they are still blooming beautifully - just seem to wither up and die. Cannot find a reason why.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 08/11/2015 - 9:33am

If all of a sudden they died, we are probably talking a root issue. It is hard to say exactly what it was, but here are the most probably causes (most likely to least likely):

The most likely cause it is water. Scaevola doesn't necessarily like to be too wet, and you wouldn't necessarily know there is an issue until one day they wilt and the end is near. Staying too wet causes root rot of some kind, which causes the death.

It could also be that some critter (mole, vole, gopher, something else subterranean) munched a good portion of the roots and then the inevitable happened.

Lastly it could be insect/grub/larvae related where some pest infested the roots and caused problems.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 06/14/2015 - 5:59pm

This is the first year I've planed honeysuckle vine and want to know how to care for it and increase the blooms. Hoping to attract more than the 2 or 3 hummingbirds that I get.

Kelly Geoghegan's picture
Kelly Geoghegan Fri, 06/19/2015 - 9:44am

Pruning is usually not needed, but may be trimmed after flowering.

The Scentsation is a very showy vine with extremely fragrant yellow flowers blooms from mid-spring to late summer, followed by bright red berries. This floriferous honeysuckle has a very long bloom time, and is a wonderful addition to summer gardens, especially when trained up a trellis or fence. Non-invasive. Adaptable to most soils.

Hope this helps!

Kelly Geoghegan

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 06/03/2015 - 7:13pm

My plant is in it's second year and looks beautiful right now. Does the fact that it is not listed in your plants that don;t need to be deadheaded mean that I should be doing that?

Kelly Geoghegan's picture
Kelly Geoghegan Fri, 06/05/2015 - 1:26pm

Deadheading not necessary for continuous blooms and Fruit Punch Apple Slice is a continuous blooming plant.

Kelly Geoghegan

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/01/2015 - 4:17pm

I got an azalea plant for mother's day and I live in Illinois, in the Qc area. I know my sister grew them in Arizona and they were so beautiful. I did plant it in a full to part shaded area, but do I deadhead these after they bloom? The once pretty pink flower is turning brown. If I do deadhead them, will they rebloom again? Thanks for any help you can give.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 02/21/2018 - 7:58am

The rule of thumb for spring blooming perennials is to do all pruning before the 4th of july-- anything afterward and you may be risking next spring's blooms. It's just a rule of thumb, and I do that for my azaleas and gardenias.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 06/01/2015 - 5:40pm

Once an azalea bush blooms it's beautiful flowers, it then becomes an evergreen and will stay that way until next Spring. It is a beautiful bush when flowers are fully bloomed.

Kelly Geoghegan's picture
Kelly Geoghegan Mon, 06/01/2015 - 4:54pm

Deadheading is not necessary for Continuous Bloom and our bloom-a-thon azaleas are a continuous bloomer! Prune to shape and fertilize after the first major spring bloom.

Hope this helps!

Kelly Geoghegan

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 Fri, 08/08/2014 - 6:08am

Hi Anon, the articles you do not need to deadhead the variety called Luscious. So the other varieties like Chapel Hill Yellow would do best with deadheading. ~g

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 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.

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