Skip to main content

What you need to know about deadheading in your garden

Flowers are a beautiful, colorful way to decorate your home or yard. Whether you’re growing a garden full of blooms or just a single flower to spruce up a corner of your home, you’ll want your plants to bloom as often and for as long as possible. One technique you may have heard of is deadheading. What is deadheading, though, and how does it work? How do you know if your plants would benefit from it, and how can you deadhead your plants without hurting them? We’ll answer all your questions about deadheading here in this simple guide.

What is deadheading?

Deadheading is the act of removing dead flowers from the plant. This serves a couple purposes. It improves the aesthetics of the plant and the garden overall by getting rid of dead blooms. More importantly, however, it frees up energy for your plant to use. Plants will continue to devote energy to blooms that’ve died, since this is where seeds or fruit form. Removing the spent blooms allows the plant to devote that energy to other things, such as stronger roots and healthier foliage. Many plants will even bloom additional flowers to replace the old ones after deadheading.

Deadheading an old white rose with garden shears

What plants benefit from deadheading?

Any plant that has flowers and is being grown for decorative purposes can benefit from deadheading. Flowers that you’re growing for seeds or for fruit won’t benefit from deadheading, since deadheading prevents the seed pod or fruit from forming. Deadheading is easiest and most effective in plants that bloom a single flower per stem, but can also be beneficial for plants that form flower spikes.

It can be more difficult to deadhead flower spikes, since there are multiple flowers per stem, and those flowers may die at different times. Deadhead those plants when the majority of the flowers on the flower spike are dead, saving energy for your plant but still allowing yourself time to enjoy the plant’s beauty.

There are some plants that don’t need to be deadheaded, though. Aside from plants you’re cultivating for seeds or fruit, there are self-cleaning plants. Self-cleaning plants have flowers that naturally fall off on their own once they’re done blooming. You can deadhead them, if you have a self-cleaning plant that is a little slow to drop or want a faster second bloom, but in most cases they’ll take care of themselves.

Some common self-cleaning plants are:

  • Lantana
  • Begonias
  • Lobelia
  • Zinnia
  • Petunias
Pink, yellow, and white lantana blooms

How to deadhead without hurting your plants

Deadheading is a simple process and there are only a few ways you can go wrong with it, but it helps to know what to do and what not to do. Find the point on the stem between the flower and the first set of full leaves. That is where to pinch or cut the flower off. This leaves room for a new flower to grow, if one is going to grow, without damaging the plant.

Try to get as clean a break as possible by using sharp scissors to cut it or by pinching it in a quick, strong movement. Tearing or crushing the stem causes stress to the plant. Although this isn’t an immediate death sentence, it does leave your plant slightly more vulnerable to diseases and pests. These small amounts of stress can build up if every stem is being subjected to it, so it’s important to get a clean break.

If there isn’t much room between the flower and the first set of leaves, be sure to make your cut closer to the flower than the leaves, which will decrease your odds of harming the leaves. Once again, damaging the first set of leaves isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your plant, but it does cause stress. Additionally, repairing damaged leaves uses energy that the plant could be putting towards new blooms.

Deadheading plants is an easy way to encourage your flowers to keep blooming. It isn’t strictly necessary for plant health, but it does provide some benefits to your plant and to you. Deadheading your plants keeps your garden looking fresh and colorful, and prolongs the amount of time your garden is in full bloom. It’s simple and harmless, so go ahead and give it a try in your own garden.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
Ornamental grasses add texture and color to your garden – how to grow these 6 different varieties
Caring for these ornamental grasses in your yard or garden
Pink muhly grass

Although there are countless varieties of grass, so many of them look the same. It can be difficult to find grass that really stands out in your garden. That’s where ornamental grasses come in. Ornamental grasses like pink muhly grass, purple fountain grass, and switchgrass can add color and texture to your garden borders just like flowers would. Wondering which ornamental grass to choose for your garden? Here are a few of our favorites!
What makes a grass ornamental?
You may think that all grass is ornamental. After all, we grow lawns because they look nice, not because we use them for food. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong in thinking that. Ornamental grass is still grass; it’s just grass that looks different. However, ornamental grass includes grass-like plants such as sedge, as well as true grass varieties.

Ornamental grasses come in a range of appearances besides the short, green look of classic lawn grasses. Often, ornamental grasses are tall, with some growing to 15 feet tall or more. Many are colorful and patterned, and they may have an interesting flower or seed head. Since there are so many varieties, there are ornamental grasses that will fit almost any garden or yard. Many gardeners use ornamental grasses as borders, but some varieties can make great additions to container gardens or flower gardens.

Read more
Quaking aspens are tall, beautiful, and easier to care for than you might expect
Read here and learn how to grow quaking aspens
Quaking aspen trees

Quaking aspens are native deciduous trees with striking and easily recognizable silhouettes. They have tall, thin trunks wrapped in white or silver bark. Although they are stunning all year long, with small white flowers in the spring and round green leaves in the summer, quaking aspens are perhaps most famous for their brilliant gold color of fall foliage. In addition to their beauty, quaking aspens are also extremely good for the environment. If you’re thinking about planting a quaking aspen tree in your yard, this is the care guide for you.
How to plant a quaking aspen
When choosing your planting site, there are a few key things to look for. First, your planting site should be well away from power lines, buildings, or other structures that tree growth could damage. Quaking aspens typically grow to between 30 and 50 feet tall (although some can grow much taller) and their longest branches can grow up to 30 feet long, so make sure your tree has plenty of room.

Your location should also be in full sun with rich, moist soil. Quaking aspens need at least 4 to 6 hours of sun each day in order to grow properly. In addition to the sun, a quaking aspen needs plenty of water and nutrients. Adding compost to your soil before you begin planting can help improve poor soil. Although it needs moist soil, avoid planting your quaking aspen in wetlands or dips where water pools, as too much standing water can lead to fungal infections.

Read more
Blazing stars will fill your summer garden with color: A liatris care guide
Growing and caring for liatris
Tall purple liatris (blazing star) with butterflies

There are many wonderful plants you can add to your summer flower garden for stunning color, from tall and bright sunflowers to short and sweet zinnia. If you’re planning your garden now, you should definitely consider adding liatris, also called blazing star, to the mix! This tall, drought-tolerant, native perennial has stunning purple flowers. It’ll even attract butterflies. Here’s everything you need to know about planting and caring for liatris.
Planting liatris
You can plant liatris bulbs in the spring or fall, but you can transplant mature plants during any season. Choose a location with full sun and well-draining soil to plant your liatris in. Blazing stars can tolerate some light shade, but they won’t thrive unless they get at least 6 hours of sun each day. Spacing is important when planting liatris, as they can grow to 2 feet high and 1.5 feet wide. Plant your liatris bulbs 12 to 15 inches apart so they have plenty of space to grow.

In addition to having well-draining soil, it should also be average or poor. Many plants prefer soil that's rich with organic matter, but liatris has an unusual quirk! The flower stalks will sometimes bend or flop over if the soil is too rich.

Read more