What's deadheading and why should I do it?

Hibiscus in need of dead heading

If there’s only one thing you do to care for your plants, this is probably going to be the activity you choose. If (like me) you love having gorgeous blooms on your plants all year round, this is one very quick and easy thing you can do to ensure the plants that you do have, keep blooming for as long as possible.

What is dead-heading?

Dead-heading is the removal of flower heads that have bloomed and are past their best. You can also remove flowers that are in their prime or even in bud, but then it wouldn't be called dead-heading. It would be 'cutting flowers'. In most cases, it gives the same results.

Why should I dead-head plants?

You should dead-head plants if you want to encourage new growth of buds and flowers, and to encourage your plant to keep flowering for as long as possible.

Removing the old blooms from a plant encourages the plant to put more energy into developing new buds and blooms, rather than directing energy to creating seeds or sustaining blooms that are past their best.

Apart from anything, plants just look SO much better if they’ve been manicured and had the dead heads removed. It’s like giving a plant a makeover. It looks younger, brighter, and more attractive when you’ve removed all the dead heads.

Which plants need dead-heading?

All plants that are grown for flowering can benefit from a bit of dead heading during the flowering time.

The only situation I would say don’t dead head flowers is if you specifically want a plant to create seeds or fruit. Then, you should avoid dead-heading the flowers – and may even choose to remove some of the buds instead – in order to encourage the plant to put more of its energy into creating the biggest and best fruit it can. When gardeners are trying to create giant pumpkins, for example, they often concentrate on just one flower and remove all other buds, in order to encourage the largest fruit possible.

When should I dead-head flowers?

Dead-head flowers as soon as they’re past their best and starting to shrivel up.

Don’t worry if, once you’ve dead-headed a plant, that there are no blooms left on it. Depending on the time of year, there may be more blooms to come, or it may be the end of the flowering season for that particular plant.

Also bear in mind that if you’re growing flowers for cutting (e.g. Cosmos, Dahlia, Glodioli), you don’t have to wait until the flowers are past their best before cutting the heads off. If you cut the heads off whilst the flowers are just about to bloom or already in full bloom, the same regeneration effect will be achieved as if you had waited until the blooms were past their best. In fact, the best time to cut flowers is just before they come into bloom, as buds will continue to open even once cut.

How do I dead-head flowers?

Dead heading a hibiscus

Use secateurs, if you have them, but often I find scissors are just as good (if not better, as they have better precision and I'm more used to handling them). The most important thing is that they are sharp, because you need to be able to cut the dead heads off cleanly and without bruising or damaging the surrounding fibres of the stalk or the stem of the plant.

Cut the dead flower head cleanly off, all the way back to the next junction with a branch or another stem on the plant.

Dead heading a hibiscus

It’s as simple as that. It takes about 30 seconds to dead-head a plant, and you don’t have to do it every day, or even every week.

What’s the difference between pruning and dead-heading?

Pruning is the cutting back of a plant once or twice a year in order to stimulate growth the following year or season. You might remove entire branches or cut a plant back right down to the ground. Dead-heading is when you just remove the dead flower heads in order to promote continued blooming the same season.