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Why Deadheading Gives Flowering Plants New Life

Landscaping and gardening have a language of their own. For example, one term that some would consider an oxymoron is deadheading. You would think that deadheading would have something to do with killing a plant but it’s actually a procedure that extends a plant’s life.

Deadheading is the practice of removing spent flowers from a plant before they can go to seed. Every life process requires that energy be expended. Removing flowers when they begin looking as though they’re dying prevents them from expending energy to finish the flowering process and setting seed heads. Instead, they’ll direct that energy to blooming again to finish the reproduction process that you short circuited.

Some gardeners refer to the process of deadheading as “pinching off” the flowers. On many annuals, you can pinch the stem just below the bloom you’re removing. Some gardeners believe that pinching’s the only way to remove fading flowers. Others, me included, have no problem using tools when that will help. The stems of some annuals are just too thick to be pinched. A pair of ordinary kitchen scissors will do the trick for most annuals and many herbaceous perennials. Woody perennials are a different story.

Most flowering shrubs will only bloom once a year but it’s a good idea to deadhead them anyway just to keep them tidy. Who wants to see limp, brown, dead flowers hanging from their shrubs? Pruning shears work best for this job. You can dull kitchen scissors quickly by cutting wood with them. There’s debate over whether deadheading flowering shrubs will yield more flowers next season, but it will keep them from misdirecting energy.

Deadheading shrubs will provide you with a low impact landscaping activity on summer days when your green thumb gets itchy. Be careful when removing spent flowers, though. Look for buds and avoid them. The buds are next year’s flowers. Removing them with this year’s spent flowers will result in no blooms next year.

There’s a difference between deadheading and pruning. To deadhead, you just remove the blooms at their base. Don’t remove any wood. Pruning is for removing dead, dying, broken or rubbing branches or shoots. Pruning is also used to shape shrubs by removing or trimming back branches to maintain a particular form. This procedure is more than a simple cut at the base of a flower. Pruning cuts should be made all the way to the base of the shrub or, at least to a junction with another branch or a leaf. You don’t want to leave stubs.

One comment on “Why Deadheading Gives Flowering Plants New Life

  1. Hey, I just wrote about this. I suppose that there is more of this happening now than at other times of the year.

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