Digging In: The Benefits of Deadheading

The Learning Gardens at The Growing Place, Aurora are currently awash in color. Perennials, roses and annuals that thrive in long days and warm summer temperatures are currently the stars of the gardens. While I am still doing some planting and removal, and aside from the perpetual battle with weeds, my main activity is deadheading. Some might ask, what is deadheading? Deadheading is the practice of removing spent flowers. There are three main reasons for deadheading: to redirect a plant’s energy from making seeds to developing root and vegetative growth; to reduce the dispersal of unwanted seeds, and to prolong the flowering period or encourage a second flush of blooms on some perennials. Perhaps just as important, deadheading also helps maintain the neat appearance of the gardens.

While the bulk of my deadheading activity begins now in late spring, it really started after the bulbs—daffodils, tulips and hyacinths—finished blooming last month. At that time I removed the spent blooms, but left the foliage undisturbed until recently when it started browning. By now, the foliage has channeled to the bulb the energy it needs to power next spring’s color show so it is safe to cut it back. You may choose to treat another bulb, allium, a little differently. When its tall spherical flower fades the allium flower is still quite dramatic and beautiful. We remove the leaves as they fade to brown, but leave the flower stalk as long as it remains upright.

About this time annual plants start to come into their own and plants that benefit from deadheading by flowering longer include: geranium (Pelargoniums), Dahlia, Begonia, Petunia, annual Salvia and Zinnia.

The list of perennials that respond to deadheading by producing more blooms is a long one. Some of the more popular ones in our Learning Gardens include: Achillea, Alcea, Aquilegia, Coreopsis, Digitalis, Echinacea, Geum, Guara, Heliopsis, Leucanthemum, Monarda, Penstemon and Salvia (perennial). Although not considered perennials, roses fall into this category. We snip off spent rose blossoms to promote more blooming and more energetic plants.

A good deal of the deadheading we do in the Learning Gardens is done to help improve their appearance. Peonies are a good example. Nothing compares to the beauty of peonies in peak bloom, but they look just awful when they’re done. So, as soon as they’re done dazzling us, off with their heads. A few other perennials that we deadhead immediately after blooming include: Dicentra, Heuchera, Hemerocallis, Hibiscus, Hosta, Iris, Kniphofia, Nepeta and Stachy.

Some perennials we deadhead to control unwanted seed production; most notable are Aquilegia and Baptesia, Brunnera and Echinacea.

Determining how to deadhead the wide variety of perennials and annuals can seem confusing, but as a general rule, using sharp pruning shears I cut off the bloom and stem down to the next new bud or flower. If there isn’t a flower, then I cut to the first lateral branch. In any case, I avoid leaving stems or stubs.

If you can get into the “zone” like I do you might find deadheading is meditative and relaxing. Sure deadheading offers practical benefits, but I view it as another opportunity to give something back to the plants that give me such pleasure.

Aurora Location

2000 Montgomery Road,

Aurora, IL 60504

Phone. 630-820-8088

Naperville Location

25w471 Plank Road,

Naperville, IL 60563

Phone. 630-355-4000

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