Dead-heading is simply the removal of flowers from plants when they are fading or dead.
It is done to keep plants looking attractive and encourage more blooms, whether in beds and border, containers or hanging baskets.
Some plants do not need dead-heading – Fuchsias, bedding lobelia and salvias either don’t set much seed or neatly deadhead themselves.
Do not remove the faded flowers on plants that produce seed loved by birds, including Rudbeckia, Cornflower and Sunflower
There is no need to dead-head rose cultivars that bear hips or other plants that bear berries in the autumn and leave plants that have ornamental seeds or fruits without dead-heading, for example, alliums; love-in-a-mist (Nigella), stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) and bladder cherry (Physalis alkekengi)
Reasons For Dead-heading
Most flowers lose their attraction as they fade, spoiling the overall appearance of beds, borders and containers, and are best removed. However, there are other reasons:
- Regular dead-heading directs energy into stronger growth and more flowers. Once the flowers are pollinated; seed heads, pods or capsules form at the expense of further growth and flower development
- It can prevent plants with numerous petals, such as peonies, some camellias and many roses, scattering debris widely
When & What To Dead-head
Remove the spent flowers as soon as they look scruffy. Gardeners usually remove them as soon as they can and a few days delay won’t make a difference.
Plants To Dead-head
- Bedding plants growing in beds, containers and hanging baskets respond well to dead-heading. The faded blooms of argyranthemums, cherry pie, pansies, polyanthus and petunias can be removed with finger and thumb
- Geraniums (Pelargonium): Hold the faded flower stalk near the base and pull downwards. The old bloom will snap out cleanly
- Roses: Gently snap off the faded flowers, breaking the stalk just below the head
- Shrubs: Among the most important shrubs to deadhead are rhododendron (and azaleas), camellias, lilacs and tree peonies. Use finger and thumb to pick or snap off each dead head where it joins the stem or secateurs to cut just below the flower head. Avoid damaging buds or developing growths immediately below the flower
- Climbers: Deadhead climbers where practical, particularly Eccremocarpus as it rapidly produces seed pods
- Bulbs: Remove flowers, along with the seed capsule. However, leave the green flower stalk in place as this produces food, helping to build up the bulb to flower well next season
How to do it
- With finger and thumb
The simplest method is to just pinch off the faded blooms with finger and thumb. Aim to remove the flower with its stalk to ensure the plant looks tidy.
- With secateurs, scissors or a knife
To deadhead plants with tough or stringy stems, use secateurs, scissors or a knife. This includes dahlias, calendulas, marigolds and shrubs such as lilac.
Where to cut
- For border perennials and annuals, trim away the old flowers, generally cutting back to a bud or leaf
- Some hardy geraniums, delphiniums and lupins produce a second flush of flowers if cut back close to ground level.
- Other plants, such as lady’s mantle and oriental poppies, can still be cut back near ground level but, usually, only produce fresh foliage
- Gently snap off the faded flowers of roses, breaking the stalk just below the head (rather than cutting just above a leaf, as the snapping method results in more blooms being produced more quickly on repeat-flowering cultivars)