A. Deadheading - what an ominous sounding word. It makes one think that something is being killed, when actually a very important task in the garden is being taken care of. Not only will deadheading improve the appearance, deadheading also helps the vigor of the plant and increases blooming time.
Deadheading simply means removing the faded or dead flower heads from a plant. Like all gardening chores, deadheading is both beneficial and necessary. It lengthens the blooming time of some plants, increases the amount of blooms for others and keeps the garden looking neat and properly cared for. In some cases, deadheading is helpful in reducing the amount of new plants produced from the numerous seeds that are dispersed naturally. Perennials as well as annuals benefit from deadheading.
It is the nature of perennials to bloom and then focus their energy on producing seed. Most perennials have a certain amount of time, whether it be weeks or months, to bloom each year. By deadheading, the usual amount of bloom time can be increased, sometimes very dramatically. Coreopsis is a perfect example. By de-budding the dead flowers every day or so, the coreopsis in my garden bloom from March to November. This de-budding can be very time consuming but well worth the beautiful display of flowers for such a long period of time. Daylilies also respond well to deadheading by continuing to produce blooms after dead flowers are removed.
Annuals are genetically designed to produce flowers, set seed and die all in one season. However, by using a diligent and regular program of deadheading, their blooming season can usually be lengthened. When the spent blooms are removed, the plan delays seed production and its energy is used to produce more flowers. Marigolds and zinnias respond exceedingly well to deadheading - prompting them to be much more prolific bloomers. Petunias and pansies become very sparse when not deadheaded. Leggy stems can be cut back to the ground, which induces the plant to put on new growth and sometimes another round of blooms.
Deadheading is usually done by snipping off the flower head with the thumb and forefinger. This technique is fine for small-stemmed plants such as salvia, euryops and copper canyon daisy. When plants have thicker stems, such as rudbeckia, purple coneflower and daylilies, however, unnecessary tugging on the stem may cause damage to the plant. In this case, sharp scissors or pruners should be used. Both instances require a clean cut. Some plants have a fine-textured foliage and produce a countless number of flowers, such as dianthus, David Verity cuphea and cosmos. Deadheading individual blooms would be very time consuming. Using a shearing tool or hedge clippers not only gets rid of the dead flowers, but also keeps the plant compact and shapely.
The growth habit of a plant determines where the cut should be made. When a plant has numerous stems, such as salvia, coreopsis or chrysanthemum, the stem should be cut back to the first leaf or group of leaves. With plants that produce stems with multiple flowers that open at different times, such as daylilies and amaryllis, each bloom can be snipped off when it dies. Then when all the blooms on the stem are gone, the entire stem should be clipped back to the ground. Plants such as agapanthus and hosta that produce individual stems of flowers above a clump of leaves, should be deadheaded at the lowest part of the stem.
Sometimes seeds are desired for either ornamental purposes or future propagation of plants. In this case, snip off a quarter to a third of the flowers on a plant and leave some of the seeds for the birds or for you to collect at a later time for planting. In addition to deadheading, blooms can be collected at their prime and used for fresh flowers in your home or for drying purposes.
Deadheading may be considered extra work by some, but most gardeners will enjoy the time spent in the garden, not to mention the favorable results obtained.
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