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Deadheading: how and why to remove fading flowers

by Rhiannon James

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Snipping off faded flowers in the garden isn’t just a job for the neat; it keeps plants blooming longer too.

Plants use their flowers to produce the seeds they need to multiply. So if you cut off the flowers before the seed heads form, plants are often forced to get growing again and to produce more or better blooms. Preventing plants from setting seed also keeps them stronger and healthier.

Bedding plants usually need the most regular deadheading, but it’s also useful for some perennials, climbers and roses.

Even for some plants that won’t flower again that season, including bulbs and some shrubs such as camellias and rhododendrons, deadheading will encourage them to perform better the following year. Plus, if you’ve got prolific self-seeders such as campanulas or sisyrinchiums, cutting off their faded flower heads can help to keep them under control.

Things you’ll need

1. A pair of secateurs (or scissors)

Step-by-step

Bedding Plants /Annuals

1. Snip or pinch off faded flowers with their stalks to keep plants growing and blooming throughout the season.

2. Try to make sure that you don’t cut through other stems or foliage at the same time.

Perennials

1. Not all perennials will rebloom in response to deadheading so it’s worth checking before getting stuck in with the secateurs, particularly if the plant produces attractive seed heads or berries. For plenty of plants though, it can prolong the flowering time or stimulate a second flush of blooms.

2. Perennials come in all shapes and sizes so it can be tricky to work out how to trim them. In general though, the best approach is to follow the stalk down to a lateral bud or side shoot (or sometimes to a leaf) and to make the cut just above this.

This approach often has the added benefit of encouraging the plant to become bushier and allowing you to create a shape that you want. For plants such as scabious, which have single blooms on the end of long stalks, trim the stalks off at the base or where they emerge from foliage.

If the stalks are short, make the cut close to the flower. For plants with clusters of blooms on each flower stem, remove each individual as it fades and then when the whole stalk has finished flowering, remove it. A few other plants, such as delphiniums, lupins and hardy geraniums, can be cut back hard after flowering and this may encourage a second flush of blooms. If you’re not sure what to do though, just trim the flower heads off and leave it at that. Remove any dead stems and leaves at the same time.

3. Plants that are worth leaving to set seed at the end of the season include echinacea, achillea and rudbeckia – they have lovely sculptural seed heads and will provide food in the autumn and winter for birds.

Roses

1. Some roses only flower once but others will produce more blooms if you cut off the flower heads as they fade.

2. Some species of rose, such as Rosa rugosa, produce beautiful hips in the autumn and winter so it’s best not to deadhead these types.

3. Some roses have clusters of blooms on each flower stem and these will mature at different times. As each flower fades, snip it off just above the point where its individual stalk emerges from the stem. When all the flowers have finished, cut the whole stem back to a healthy shoot or bud that is pointing outwards from the bush. Angle the cut so it slopes away from the bud. This will encourage a new flower stem to grow which will provide more blooms.

4. On single stems, when the flower has faded, cut the stem back to a bud just above the first set of true leaves – these have five leaflets (don’t go any further because you’ll just get more leaves rather than flowers).

5. Some people recommend snapping rather than cutting off the faded flowers and say this makes more blooms appear more quickly.

Rhododendrons and azaleas

1. It is worth deadheading rhododendrons and azaleas so that they put energy into developing buds for the following season rather than producing seeds. The idea is to remove the faded flower head to reveal the new buds developing around the base of its stalk.

2. Hold the flower stalk, not too close to the base, (although rhododendrons look as if they have big flower heads, these are really lots of little flowers attached at the bottom to a single stalk) and move it backwards and forwards until it snaps off. If it won’t break, make a cut just below the flower head with secateurs. Just be careful not to damage the buds.

3. Repeat for all the other faded flowers on the plant.

4. Next season, there will be more and better stems and flowers as a result.

Bulbs

1. Once the flowers fade, cut them off. This will encourage the plant to direct energy into the bulb rather than into seed production and it will perform better the following year. Leave the green flower stalk intact though because this is one of the parts of the plant that makes food.

 

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