Deadheading spent flowers means removing flowers as they fade. There are several reasons why it’s a good idea to deadhead but the main one is that the practice often encourages a second flush of flowers to develop, so the plant uses its energy on the formation of new blooms rather than fruit and seed. This means you may have a more colourful garden for longer, with some plants blooming right until the first frosts.
There are other benefits to deadheading: spent leaves stuck on leaves can cause damage and/or mould to develop, so removing the flowers can protect the foliage. Deadheading prevents the formation of seeds, which is especially useful with bulbous plants like daffodils, as the plant’s energy is directed back to the bulb which then increases its chances of flowering the following year. Deadheading can also prevent the spread of prolific self-seeders like hellebores, lady’s mantle, aquilegias and poppies – simply snip off the spent flowers or seedheads before they ripen and release their contents.
Deadheading is uncomplicated but it can be time-consuming if you have lots of containers or a large plot. However, if you make the time to do it in small chunks of time, say five minutes per day, the job will feel less of a burden.
When not to deadhead
Remember that the natural cycle of all plants is to reproduce themselves, and most do so by developing fruit and/or seed. Because this cycle has developed over many thousands of years, birds and mammals have evolved alongside these plants to eat their fruits and seed, with some species – such as blackbirds – having an active role in the distribution of new plants.
Some birds and mammals rely on seeds, berries and other fruits to eat in autumn and winter, so bear in mind that deadheading could have an impact on them, especially if you live in an urban area. Nearly all fruiting and seeding plants will provide food for birds and other animals, including roses, echinacea, lavender, teasel and sunflowers.
What’s more, some plants, such as honesty, ornamental grasses, clematis, phlomis and teasel, develop decorative seedheads, which provide interest throughout winter, especially after a frost. So keeping them can benefit the appearance of the garden in the darker months. So, while deadheading is useful in keeping plants flowering for longer, not doing so can benefit the garden and its wildlife in other ways. As with many aspects of gardening, balance is key.
Discover nine plants to deadhead, in our guide.
How to deadhead for more colour in autumn
Here, Monty Don explains how and why to deadhead flowering plants in autumn:
Follow our step-by-step guide, on how to deadhead, below.
You Will Need
- Scissors, floral snips or secateurs
Use scissors or florists’ snips, or simply your finger and thumb to pinch off the dying flowers of summer bedding plants, to keep them blooming for longer. Most summer bedding plants have little or no use to wildlife when they set seed and don’t have any ornamental value beyond flowering, so deadhead as many spent blooms as you can to keep the display lasting for as long as possible.
Deadheading spent flowers
Use secateurs to regularly deadhead repeat-flowering roses to channel the plant’s energy into producing more flower buds. Towards the end of the season you might want to stop deadheading so the plants can produce rosehips, which not only look attractive but provide food for wildlife such as birds, mice and squirrels. Find more on how to deadhead roses.
The tall flower spikes of some perennials, such as this lupin, are best cut back before the last few flowers are finished, as seed pods are already forming at the base and this diverts energy away from producing more flowers. Prune out the stalk to just above the leaves.
Plants which produce masses of flowers, like this lavender, can be given a ‘haircut’ with secateurs or scissors as soon as the flowers lose their colour. This will encourage bushy side growth and keep plants compact. Alternatively, leave the seedheads intact and enjoy the spectacle of house sparrows and goldfinches taking the seeds in autumn and winter – then simply cut the plants back after the birds have had their fill.
Some plants, like these pelargoniums, have long flower stalks. Snap these off cleanly at the base, where they sprout from the main stem.