Deadheading: The Secret to Abundant Flowers

Gardens always look perfect in June. The days are warm, not yet too hot and the spring rains have worked their magic. Perennials are fully up and the annuals are established and blooming profusely. It’s amazing, however, how quickly the "perfect" garden can fall into shabbiness come the first really hot and humid week of July. Unfortunately this also usually the time when the weeds take over with a vengeance!

Deadheading - the removal of spent and faded blossoms- pinching back, and cutting back are the gardener’s essential tools to recreate the splendor of June through the summer months. These different methods of plant grooming are easy to do, but it is important to know when, how and what to cut.


Deadheading is desirable for a several reasons. First, there is nothing attractive about limp, brown flowers. Deadheading alone will instantly make the garden look better. Second, many perennials will rebloom if their developing seedpods are removed quickly. While the second blooming is never as profuse as the first, the prolonged color in the garden is well worth the effort. Lastly, some flowers, such as cleome, seed profusely, thus creating a potential "flower weed" problem. (Remember the definition of a weed is "any undesirable in the garden.")

The best time to deadhead is just before or immediately after the flower has faded. If the flower blooms on a single individual stem, such as a geranium, prune off the stem to the place where it meets the plant. Do not merely cut off the dead flower. Annual flowers that respond particularly well to deadheading include: marigolds, geraniums, zinnias, cosmos, salvia and snapdragons.

Pinching Back

Some annuals have a tendency to get "leggy" with long stems and just a few flowers on the ends. Petunias are a prime example. To encourage a more compact plant and increased flowering, cut the stems back by one-third to one-half. While this process may remove the only flowers on the plant, it will only take a few weeks of growth to have fuller, more profusely flowering plants.

For some plants, it is desirable to prevent or delay flowering. Basil and coleus, for example, are grown for their leaves and need to be pinched back to prevent flowering, thus encouraging full bushy plants. Many varieties of sedum and chrysanthemum are planted for fall color; however, if the flower buds are not pinched frequently until early July the plant will bloom in the spring instead of the fall.

Cutting Back

If an annual or perennial plant is looking particularly peaked in the summer heat you may want to cut it way back – in half or to the ground. Annuals such as alyssum and lobelia may start to brown if the temperatures get too hot. It is best to cut annuals in half, not all the way to the ground, and wait for cooler temperatures to encourage new growth. Fertilize with a water soluble plant food such as Miracle Gro to quicken the growing process.

If a perennial plant withers in the summer heat cut it back to the ground. It may not come back until next spring (bleeding hearts, peonies are examples) or it may produce new leaves and maybe even reflower this year (such as salvia and veronica). Each year may produce different results, but removing unsightly plants will instantly make the garden look better.

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