What Is Deadheading? Do My Flowers Really Need Decapitation?

Flower farming
close up of colorful flowers

A Dramatic Name for Pruning Flowers

If you’ve ever heard a gardener talking about deadheading their flowers, it’s not really all that creepy or dramatic. It has nothing to do with playing music to your plants, not even groovy songs from the 1960s, no matter what your search engine results might turn up. You might already be doing it on your own, even if you don’t know what it is.

According to the Penn State Extension, “Deadheading is a process of pruning by which old growth and seed heads are removed from the plant to promote new growth and re-flowering.” That’s right, it’s the simple task of snipping or pinching the ugly parts off the tops of your flowers. 

Normally, you deadhead your flowers right above the first set of healthy leaves, making sure to get the whole flower head. 

Should I Deadhead My Flowers?

Now that you’ve got a word for the technique you’ve been using all along, let’s talk about why you’d want to deadhead. 

Keep Your Garden Tidy. Gardeners often deadhead to keep plants looking their best. Flowers that have withered and gone to seed aren’t as attractive. Removing them when they lose their beauty makes sense. 

Refocus Plant Energy on Flower Making. Perennials that bloom throughout the year can be encouraged to make more flowers with deadheading. If the seedhead is left, the plant will focus its energy on the seeds instead of flowers, leaves, and roots. Removing blooms as they start to fade throughout the growing season allows your plant to produce more flowers and healthy foliage. 

What Flowers Don’t Need Deadheading?

Not all plants need to be deadheaded. If you want seeds to fully develop, or if you’re hoping your flowers reseed themselves, allowing the seeds to remain or spread naturally might be a good choice. 
Some examples of flowers that are just fine without extra effort are lantana, begonia, vinca, and impatiens. Flowers like peonies, which only bloom once a season, are also fine without deadheading.

Choose Your Own Gardening Adventure

And, of course, you might choose to deadhead some plants throughout the season up until fall. When autumn comes around, leaving the plants to their own devices will allow the garden to reseed itself. Look to see where your flowers turn up the following spring. Plants can spread to the most unlikely places, so be ready for some surprises! 

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