Your annuals and perennials will bloom more if you snip away spent flowers. Plus, it's an easy way to help your garden look tidy.

By BH&G Garden Editors
Updated August 04, 2020
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Let's face it: Even the name of this task sounds scary. But deadheading your plants isn't as morbid as it sounds; it just means trimming off spent flowers. Not only does this help keep your garden looking tidy, but it also encourages your plants to continue making new flowers instead of spending energy on producing seeds. Some gardeners get a little nervous about snipping parts off their plants, but unless you really start whacking away, it's tough to damage or kill a plant just by deadheading. So when your flowering plants have blooms that are fading, brown, curled up, or otherwise looking unattractive, that's your cue to pull out your garden scissors and start trimming the spent blooms away.

Which Plants to Deadhead?

You can often get a clue about which plants to deadhead and which to leave alone just by watching them. If the flowers stay on the plant and become brown and unattractive, it's time to deadhead.

Coreopsis plants need deadheading, but instead of spending the whole day snipping, use grass shears.
| Credit: Scott Little

Shrubby Plants with Many Small Flowers

These include Coreopsis, feverfew, golden marguerites, Lobelia, sweet alyssum, smaller mums, Potentilla, flax, Aster, Gaillardia, and Ageratum. Trimming one flower at a time would be too time-consuming, so instead, shear off with grass shears. Get as much of the flower stalk as possible. Avoid buds, but don't worry about taking a little foliage off with the blooms; it'll grow back.

For larger shrubby plants, such as coneflowers, just use garden scissors to snip faded flowers.
| Credit: David Speer

Shrubby Plants with Large Flowers

These include large marigolds, summer phlox, Astilbe, peonies, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, daisies, annual and perennial Salvia, petunias, and zinnias. With hand pruning shears (also known as secateurs or pruning snips), cut off each flower individually, getting enough of the stalk so it doesn't protrude awkwardly. It's OK (and in the case of leggy plants, such as petunias, desirable) to take off a bit of the foliage, too.

Some varieties of roses are self-cleaning, meaning they'll shed spent blooms on their own and don't need deadheading.
| Credit: Jason Donnelly

Roses

Not to be confused with pruning, deadheading roses means taking out only the minimum amount of stem to remove the flower. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle that slopes down toward the center of the rosebush. The cut should be located on a spot that occurs after the first pair of leaves and is directly above an outward-facing stem (a stem that points away from the plant's center).

The best time to deadhead hostas is when about three-fourths of the flowers on the stem have bloomed.
| Credit: Julie Maris Semarco

Long-stem Flowers on Tall Stalks

These include daylilies, larkspur, foxgloves, hostas, tulips, daffodils, Oriental poppies, and irises. Simply cut back each flower with hand pruning shears as close as possible to the spot where the stalk meets the leaves.

Impatiens are a self-cleaning annual, and will naturally drop spent blooms.
| Credit: Peter Krumhardt

No Need to Deadhead

Though many plants will benefit from deadheading, not all of them need it to keep blooming. You can also find self-cleaning varieties of some plants that traditionally need deadheading; the spent blooms will naturally fall off, and the plant will produce more flowers without any trimming from you.

Other Ways to Extend Blooms

Deadheading is just one way to stretch the bloom season; there are other tricks you can use to make color last.

  • Set potted annuals in the garden and move them around to areas that need an instant color lift.
  • Plant late-summer and autumn-flowering bulbs in early to midsummer for lovely late-season bloomers.
  • Apply organic mulch (bark chips or shredded leaves) to stifle weeds and retain soil moisture. Organic mulches break down and improve soil, too.
  • Water deeply every three to four days while young plants are establishing themselves, then cut back to weekly waterings. Later in the season, water as needed when soil is dry.
  • Feed perennials monthly (spring through summer) with a fertilizer that's low in nitrogen but high in phosphorus. Feed annuals every three weeks with a balanced (5-10-5) organic fertilizer.
  • Weed out any unwanted plants so flowers won't have to compete for nutrients.
  • Remove rose suckers (the stems that grow below where the plant is grafted to the roots) right at the rose's base as soon as you see them.
  • Propagate existing plants by dividing them or collecting seeds from one or two faded blooms that you don't deadhead; the more the merrier!

Comments (4)

Anonymous
August 11, 2020
Any true gardener would leave the dead heads intact on coneflowers. They may not be pretty to look at, but are an excellent seed source for goldfinches and sparrows. This is especially important in long winters.
Anonymous
August 11, 2020
Any true gardener would leave the dead heads intact on coneflowers. They may not be pretty to look at, but are an excellent seed source for goldfinches and sparrows. This is especially important in long winters.
Anonymous
May 13, 2018
VERY HELPFUL!!
Anonymous
May 12, 2018
thank you very helpful, I always wante to make sure I was deadheading properly