Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
June, 2011
Regional Report

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Black-eyed Susan is a plant I deadhead regularly. It responds with lots of healthy new stems, foliage, and flowers, which makes it look great all summer long.

Encourage Flowering All Season Long

Regular deadheading, the simple act of removing spent flowers, can make the difference between a pretty garden and one that is spectacular. When you deadhead you immediately improve the appearance of your plants, but more importantly, the cuts and snips you make on the plant encourages new growth, which in turn encourages the development of lots of new flowers.

I like to think that annuals and perennials develop flowers simply for my benefit, so I can enjoy their fragrance and bask in their beauty. But the real reason behind flowering is reproduction. Flowers develop bright colors and delightful fragrances to attract pollinating insects. Once pollinated, the petals fade and the plants' energy is directed toward seed production. If you interrupt the seed-making process by deadheading, the plant will develop replacement flowers. If you deadhead with regularity, many plants will continually produce new flowers, all season long.

Why Deadhead?
There are many reasons to deadhead, but prolonged bloom is the most common. Some plants have unattractive seed heads or large, heavy seed heads that weigh down the stems. Others have foliage that deteriorates if the plant's energy is directed towards seed production, and still others simply take on a wild, untamed look if they aren't cut back on a regular basis. All of these conditions can be remedied by snipping off the spent flowers, along with some of the stem, when the flowers begin to fade.

How to Deadhead
Plants with a long blooming season need the most attention when it comes to deadheading. The individual spent flowers should be removed as soon as they fade. This task may seem tedious at first, but your efforts will be rewarded throughout the season as more and more flowers are produced. Cosmos, coneflowers, balloon flowers, and petunias are some of the plants I deadhead all summer long.

You can use hand pruners or scissors to remove each spent bloom just above a node (the point on the stem where a leaf or leaves appear), cutting as close to the node as possible without damaging the buds that form there. The next blooms will grow from the buds in the leaf axils.

Plants that produce a spray of flowers rather than a single flower should also be deadheaded, but instead of trying to remove individual flowers in each spray, you can simply cut off the entire spray of spent flowers, making your cut just above a node. Yarrow is a good example of this type of plant, and I often prune mine back by one-third when deadheading to encourage bushy growth.

Not all plants require season-long deadheading. Astilbes and coral bells flower once a season in my garden and they are exceptions to the rule of cutting back to a node. When the flowers have faded I simply cut the flowering stems down to just below the foliage level. This keeps the plants looking attractive for the remainder of the growing season.

Extreme Deadheading
I shear back mounding plants such as catmint and sweet William to encourage a second flush of bloom. Shearing removes the spent flowers, prevents seed formation, and helps keep the plants looking neat and attractive. These plants typically respond with lots of new foliage and a second flush of flowers.

There really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to deadheading. Individual plants respond differently to deadheading. I think the best approach is to work with your plants. You'll discover their preferences by watching their reactions to your deadheading practices.

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