The Q&A Archives: Deadheading

Question: I've read about deadheading flowering plants and shrubs. Exactly how far back to I cut, and when? I cut my coneflowers down to the ground, and they came up really nice again already this summer. My blackeyed susans are starting to look lifeless, so I cut a bunch of them off, but how far back should I go? My Asiatic lilies look awful...can I cut them back (or off!)? When my hydrangea is done flowering, again how far back? I know these are very basic questions, but I'm sort of a novice.

Answer: Deadheading serves two purposes; it keeps plants looking attractive, and it stops seed production which generally signals a plant to stop producing flowers. Annual plants can sometimes be cut back about half-way to produce a second flush of blooms. Simply shear the plants back after their blooms begin to fade. This works on some, but not all annuals. Perennial plants can have spent flowers and some of the stems removed to encourage the development of additional flowering stems. Again, some perennials respond better than others - it really depends upon the plant. Blackeyed Susans are perennials that will continue to produce flowering stems right up until frost if the old flowers and stems are kept cut. Cut them down to the crown of the plant to keep the plant looking attractive. The foliage on your lilies should be left until the leaves yellow and die naturally, but you can cut back the flowering stem after bloom. Hydrangeas bloom on shoots that develop on old wood. Cut back the stems that have flowered, but leave those that haven't yet produced flowers. You can cut the old stems down to the ground and new stems will grow next spring, but they won't bloom until the following year. To keep the shrub inbounds without sacrificing blooms, I prune mine by cutting about half of the old stems down to the ground after blooming, and the rest of the old wood gets cut back by about a half. This encourages new flowering shoots on the old wood and brand new shoots from the crown of the plant the following spring. You'll learn a lot about the plants you're growing if you experiment with pinching and pruning throughout the growing season. Keep a journal and record not only what you did, but what results were produced - both this year and next. Soon you'll be an expert instead of a novice.

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