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Deadheading: to do or not to do, that is the question

FROM THE GROUND UP | LINN COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS

Deadheading is simply defined as the removal of faded or dead flowers from a plant and is generally done to improve either the plant’s appearance or its overall performance in the garden.

Deadheading makes the plant look neater as dying flowers tend to turn brown and dry, leaving a less attractive plant.

Deadheading encourages the formation of continued blossoms. When the plant is not expending energy for seed production, more blossoms will generally appear. This is especially true for annuals growing in your gardens. Some perennials will rebloom, but remember that perennials typically have a shorter bloom time compared to annuals.

Deadheading helps plants conserve energy. Especially for those perennial plants that only bloom once – peonies, tulips iris and more, deadheading allows the plant to direct its energy into the roots and foliage, providing for a generally healthier plant, resulting in more and better blossoms the following year.

Deadheading prevents seed formation. Some plants self-sow and deadheading prevents them from forming seed in the first place.

Some of the new cultivars of common flowers have been developed to not need to be deadheaded. Some of these have flowers that are sterile and don’t produce seeds while others are self-cleaning which means that wind or other factors will cause the flowers to either blow off the plant or simple melt away leaving no old flower to remove. These include some of the phlox, Supertunia Petunias and verbenas.

Are there reasons not to deadhead our plants? I believe there are. One is providing plants to self-seed to provide me with more flower plants the following year. Zinnias and marigolds are two great examples of annuals I like to not deadhead late in the season and let them self-seed and then find those volunteer plants come spring. Common perennials that will reseed for the following year if not deadheaded include hollyhock, foxglove, columbine, Forget-me-not and hyssop.

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A second reason not to deadhead is to leave some of those seed heads as food for the birds. We have a variety of birds around our yards so what a great way to encourage them to stick around. These include coneflower, rudbeckia and sunflower.

Another reason might be simply for the winter interest provided by plants that remain standing. We used to clean the gardens in the fall to be ready for spring planting or spring renewal. Now we wait to remove most of our dead plant remains in the spring just as we see new growth beginning. These standing plants provide food for birds and habitat for overwintering bees and interesting landscape as they are coated with snow.

For many of the flowers you can simply remove the old flower by pinching off the stem just below the base of the flower. For those plants with larger stems removing just the flower head may leave an ugly stem exposed. Removing the stem just above the first set of leaves will remove the ugly stem and provide opportunity for new growth to occur.

Deadheading may sound like a time consuming chore for some gardeners. Getting into the habit of deadheading as the flowers come and go will make the task less daunting. Also searching out some of those flowers that do not need to be deadheaded may be just what you need as a busy gardener. Do some research on the plants that prefer to be deadheaded and those that don’t. The results will provide you with a garden full of flowers that provide beauty throughout the growing season with minimal time spent in maintenance.

To Do or Not to Do ….the question remains and only the individual gardener can make the choice best for them based upon the information you learn about the pros/cons of deadheading.

l For gardening questions, call the Linn County Extension Master Gardener Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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