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Deadheading... why?

17 November 2022

Deadheading is the term used for the removal of flowers from plants when they are fading or dead. It’s done to keep the garden looking attractive and to encourage the plant to create more flowers.

Regular deadheading directs energy into stronger growth and more flowers. Once the flowers are pollinated seed heads, pods or capsules will develop – and the plant, if it’s an annual, will die, having fulfilled its job.

Perennials can also be deadheaded. A perennial is a plant that persists for many growing seasons. Herbaceous perennials have foliage and stems that die to the ground at the end of the growing season and show only primary growth. Woody perennials persist with stems above the ground with primary and secondary growth, while evergreen perennials have persistent foliage without the woody stems. Some die back every autumn and winter – you would hardly know that it had been in your garden, until in the spring it sprouts again from the rootstock. Others remain above the ground but just stop flowering at the end of the summer.

In a butterfly habitat, having flowers to provide nectar for the butterflies (and other pollinators) means that the butterflies will stay around rather than going elsewhere to find nectar.

There are different methods you can use – you may need secateurs, scissors or a knife, but sometimes you can just pinch off the blooms with finger and thumb. Aim to remove the flower with its stem – right down to the next bud or leaf. The cut needs to be made just above the axil or node.

Axil or node: the angle or point of divergence between the upper side
of a branch, leaf, or petiole, and the stem or branch from which it springs

Some flowers will keep flowering for months over the course of the summer if you deadhead every few days. It is not serious if you must leave the deadheading for more than a few days while you are on holiday or are otherwise busy. But as soon as you can, get back out into the garden and trim off the dead heads. You can either collect the prunings in a bucket and add them to the compost, or you can simply drop them where you cut them, adding a layer of mulch to the soil below the plant.

Towards the end of the summer, you might like to leave the plants to set seed. If you want to keep your seed, you can put the flowers into the little mesh bags available at discount shops to let the seeds develop and mature while they are still on the plant. In this way the seed won’t be eaten by birds and won’t blow away into other areas of the garden or neighbourhood.

Using mesh bag to catch the seed of California poppies
Check out Neville Wright's Deadheading How To on our YouTube channel.

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