Deadheading might sound like an activity related to a certain rock band, but it’s actually a horticultural term, and you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to do it.
Deadheading is the process of removing spent or faded flowers from plants to prolong blooming and prevent seed formation. A plant’s goal is to reproduce by spreading its seeds. Once a flower is spent the plant will allocate most of its energy into seed production and will cease flowering. However, if spent flowers are removed before they can produce mature seeds, the plant will respond by producing more flowers.
Deadheading is a simple task that can be done by pinching off dead flower stems by hand or by cutting the stems with pruners or scissors. Depending on type of plant, cut the flower stems back to a pair of leaves, to a dormant bud on the stem, or to a leaf axil (a small green bump). For leafless stems, such as spring-flowering bulbs, hostas and daylilies, cut spent flowers close to the ground.
Some plants have more specific deadheading guidelines. Cut roses to right above a stem with five leaflets (not three leaflets) to stimulate reblooming. Deadhead tulips, narcissus and other bulbs after the foliage has turned yellow and dried to keep nutrients stored in the bulb. Deadhead lilacs immediately after they’ve finished blooming to avoid accidentally snipping next year’s buds.
Most gardeners enjoy deadheading because it is easy and because the plant immediately looks better with the dead flowers removed. This simple chore can reward you with blooms all summer long.