Flowering plants take their job very seriously – to provide the best flowers they can to attract bee’s and other pollinators to visit them. While the flowers are the benefit we enjoy through this process, the plants actually have their own agenda – to set seeds and reproduce.
Deadheading is when you remove spent flowers by cutting them off before the seedpod starts developing seeds.
Why deadhead flowers?
When you interrupt the plant cycle by removing it’s means of reproducing (the flower), it sends another flower out to attempt to complete the process.
Some varieties will continue to produce new buds right up to frost if you are diligent about deadheading. Knowing when to remove spent flowers gives you a better chance of taking advantage of those ongoing blooms. Watching how the plant evolves buds, to flowers, to spent flowers, will help you to recognize what you want to cut off and don’t.
How to deadhead
If there are no additional buds or flowers on the stalk, cut the whole stalk down to the first set of leaves, so you don’t leave empty “sticks” all over the plant. If there are buds, then just cut the flower off down to the main stem. This process is also a way to keep the plants looking fresh and neat, so take into consideration how the plant grows and where the best location would be to make the cut. Some plants with many small flowers on stems or stalks will need more aggressive pruning by cutting the whole stalk off. I don’t recommend pinching the buds off with your fingers, because of several reasons – first, this is not as fine as a cut, and can damage the stem. Second, stripping of the stem can occur if you don’t cut it cleanly, leaving the plant vulnerable to disease or pests. Third, you can uproot the plant if you pull and don’t realize you have not cut through the stem (my personal experience, yes). The proper tools are important for this process. A good set of pruners or scissors is invaluable for many uses throughout the garden, including deadheading.
Get to know the difference between the spent flower and the bud.
Balance the flower distribution
You can have some control over keeping continuous blooms distributed throughout the plant, by choosing which flowers get cut and when. Don’t wait until the whole plant is covered with spent flowers to cut them off, or you might not see flowers again for awhile. Make it a daily habit so that the plant is continuously starting to produce new buds at different locations, and the distribution of blooms will naturally follow.