90612thumbApril showers bring May flowers. May flowers make a mess. Well, some of them do. Most simply disintegrate and fall from the trees, shrubs and vines that produced them, and decompose into the soil below. Some might have needed to be swept off of pavement and decks. Regardless, most of us do not notice the very minor consequences for the majority of spectacular spring bloom.

However, there are some flowers that demand a bit more attention after they finish blooming. They linger after the show is over, and can look shabby as they deteriorate. Small ones can simply be plucked. Larger blooms might need to be pruned out. The process of removing deteriorating blooms is known as ‘deadheading’, and it is done for more reasons than just to keep plants groomed.

Plants bloom to produce seed, and the production of seed takes resources. Removal of seed structures not only diverts resources to more useful functions, but for many plants, it also stimulates subsequent bloom in response to interrupted seed production. They literally keep trying until they are able to produce viable seed, even if they must continue all season until late autumn dormancy.

Most plants that benefit from deadheading are perennials. Shasta daisy, black-eyed Susan, blanket flower, cone flower, yarrow, lavender and beard tongue (penstemon) bloom more abundantly and for a longer time with regular deadheading. The various lavenders, as well as other perennials that are comparably shrubby, are easily deadheaded by shearing after profuse bloom phases.

For bulbs and bulb like perennials that bloom only once annually, deadheading will not promote subsequent bloom during the same year, but conserves resources for the following year. Daffodil, lily, clivia, various iris and, during summer, gladiolus and dahlia, all appreciate diligent deadheading.

Petunia and marigold are two annuals that happen to bloom better with regularly deadheading. They bloom so profusely that deadheading can be quite a chore. Plants that can be invasive, such as salsify, should be deadheaded before dispersing seed.

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8 thoughts on “Deadheading Promotes And Prolongs Bloom

    1. Shearing off the dried flowers that have finished bloom somehow promotes subsequent bloom. I seriously do not know how or why. Deadheading ‘should’ be more effective for plants that are actively producing fruit structures and seed after bloom. Lavender is so quick with that process that by the time the last flowers on the flora spikes are finished blooming, the first flowers are already done with whatever seed they were working on. By the time deadheading is done, no more resources are going into seed production. Therefore, there should be no advantage to removing the old blooms. Yet, doing somehow improves subsequent bloom. Of course, it also makes them look tidier. Lavender will continue to bloom regardless of what happens to the old bloom, but bloom seems to be significantly less profuse among plants that do not get deadheaded.

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    1. Ha! I leave the sunflowers out for the finches who were kind enough to let them finish blooming first. They will not bloom again anyway. If deadheaded, it would only be to keep the garden neat.

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  1. The ones that you mention doing best with deadheading are the ones that self-seed too! I deadhead until the end of the flowering season, then let the last flowers form seeds. Downtown we have some planted areas with blanket flowers. They never deadhead them, and I noticed this year how much earlier they are up and blooming than any I’ve grown. They seem to have time to produce seeds, die, and new plants grow and bloom before frost. My tended beds don’t do as well.
    It’s a pain, but my coreopsis does best with deadheading. Oh, it’s a pain, so many flowers!

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    1. Deadheading petunias is REALLY tedious. Not only are there so many of them, but they are low to the ground and sticky to handle.
      My garden column, which these articles are written for, has limited space, which is why I neglected to mention the option of leaving the last of the old flowers to produce seed. I suppose I should have made space for that.

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