Deadheading in the garden is a task – a chore – yes, even (gasp) dreaded ‘yard work’…. But this is the time of year that we need to focus, get out there and ‘deadhead’!!
First, the ‘what’ – deadheading is the art (ok maybe ‘art’ is a bit of a push) of pulling the dead flowers off your flowering plants. We deadhead many annuals but we also should be vigilant about deadheading some perennials, and some re-blooming shrubs.
Now comes the ‘why’ – we deadhead so as to encourage the plant to keep blooming. Plants flower to make more baby plants – as flowers attract bees and birds and we all remember that talk given to us by parents long ago. Bees and other pollinators mess around in those flowers and small male flower parts get comingled with the female flower parts – add water and stir and presto chango we have ‘seeds’ that can then fall to the ground to make next years new baby plants.
The problem here is that we do NOT want our flowers to waste any time or energy making ‘seeds’ – nope – we want flowers, not seeds so if we pull off the flowers just after they bloom – we generally interrupt the making of seeds part. This upsets the poor plant – which wants to make baby plants – so it will send up another flower in hopes that this flower will make seeds.
All of that brings us back to now – early summer in our gardens. We have planted our annuals – we are enjoying our perennials coming up – and our fancy re-blooming shrubs are thinking about doing just that. This is the time of year to move deadheading up in your list of garden to-do’s (‘garden to-do’s’ sounds oh so much better than ‘yard-work’). What you need for deadheading is sharp fingernails, a hand pruner for the tougher stems and a small trash container – we like to use a coffee can (as when we have filled it that means it is time for coffee and for most garden ‘to-do’s’ we need that incentive…)
Most annual flowers you can pull off with your fingers – some are a bit messy as the spent flowers, like the petunia, get mushy. A few annuals are very satisfying to deadhead- marigolds will ‘pop’ off so we always start with messy and end up with marigolds (before coffee). When we move into perennials and shrubs we generally use the pruners as there is more stem to fuss at – and some plants like roses like to be pruned down the stem a bit (roses to the first 5-leave cluster) so the garden pruners help a lot. The good news with deadheading is that most of it makes sense when you are doing it as we are encouraging the plant to re-bloom but also cleaning it up – so as example flowers that have long stems – we take the flower stem off too as leaving all the empty stems on the plant looks unsightly. You may want to take a look on Youtube for a how-to video for a particular plant if you get stuck on the ‘how’ part – but we think the hard part is not the ‘how’ but the grabbing the pruners and coffee can and getting out to actually do it (maybe we need a bigger incentive than just a cup of coffee…hmmmm).
The payoff is in many parts. Deadheading does encourage flowers to re-bloom – that is a plus. Deadheading will clean up many plants – rather than having a plant with gloppy dead flowers (think petunia) or covered in seed pods – the plants will look as advertised. Deadheading can also help a bit with weeding as you are dropping fewer seeds into your garden soils.