How to Deadhead Flowers: 4 Key Tips

Keep your garden fresh with a little bit of effort.

A wicker basket full of deadheaded flowers

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Deadheading involves removing the flowers of plants after their blooms have faded. The purpose of a flowering plant is to produce seeds, so most of its energy goes to producing flowers and seeds. Removing faded blooms can redirect that energy back into producing leaves and roots, which can improve your plant's health and prolong its life.

Deadheading can also encourage new blooms or clean up the look of your garden. Perennials, as well as annuals, can benefit from deadheading. However, not every plant needs deadheading, and not every deadheaded plant reblooms.

Seedheads To Save For Overwintering

Some plants produce seedheads that provide winter interest and food for birds. Remove the flower petals or let them naturally drop to the ground, but leave the seedheads as they are.

  • Aster (Aster)
  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
  • Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea)
  • False sunflower (Heliopsis)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
  • Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)
  • Ligularia (Ligularia dentata)
  • Pennisetum (Pennisetum)
  • Sedum (Sedum)
  • Sunflowers (Helianthus)

Why Deadhead?

There are many benefits to this practice. First, the spent blooms of many plants can turn slimy and unattractive after some time, making them great candidates for deadheading. Decaying flowers can also attract disease and vermin, another reason to freshen them with a trim.

Perennials that bloom in the spring can be deadheaded so that they spend their energy producing strong roots for the following year. Removing the flowers from the perennial coreopsis, for example, will keep it blooming later in the season.

Likewise, deadheading plants grown mostly for their foliage, like artemisia or leafy green vegetables, will encourage them to maintain healthy leaves rather than flowers. You can even remove the buds completely before they open.

Because biennials produce flowers in their second year of growth, you may want to avoid deadheading if you intend for them to self-sow and produce new plants the following year.

Self-Sowing Flowers to Deadhead

Deadheading heavy-seeding plants can limit their spread.

  • Black-eyes Susans (Rudbeckia)
  • Calendula (Calendula)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos)
  • Delphinium (Consolida ajacis)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
  • Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)
  • Morning Glory (Ipomoea)
  • Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
  • Violets (Viola sororia)
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When to Deadhead

Peony flowers past their bloom

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Identifying when to deadhead flowers is not difficult. Petals will turn brown and droop toward the ground rather than facing the sun. Remove flowerheads before seeds have begun to develop, which encourages the plant to produce new flowers.

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Tools Tips

Garden pruners deadheading roses

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For plants with fleshy, easy-to-pinch stems, such as pansies, petunias, daylilies, sage, coleus, and yarrow, the only tools you need are your thumb and forefinger. Simply pinch the stem just below the flowerhead.

For stiffer, woody, or thorny stems, use scissors or garden pruners. Pruners are recommended on coneflowers, cosmos, lupines, bee balm, foxglove, and, of course, roses. For roses, use shears to cut the stem at a 45-degree angle away from the bud eye.

For plants that produce masses of flowers, such as candytuft (Iberis) or catmint (Nepeta), gather up the flowers with one hand and use larger hedge shears to cut back the blooms. Leave three inches of foliage.

Use clean tools. They will be less likely to damage stems or expose them to disease and rot. You can clean and disinfect your tools with a 10% solution of bleach. Rinse thoroughly after cleaning.

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Where to Deadhead

Plant Structure Diagram

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For plants with a single flower on a single stem, cut back the entire stem down to the base.

For plants with multiple flowers on each stem, deadhead back to the first set of leaves. Be sure to remove only the dead flowers, avoiding damaging those that are still budding. If all the flowers are done blooming, you can use pruners to deadhead multiple flowers at once.

If you see new buds or flowers growing below the apical (or terminal) flower or bud (the flower or bud at the end of the stem), deadhead back to the new bud or flower. If no new buds or flowers are visible, deadhead back to the first leaf below the flower.

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After Deadheading

Deadheaded flowers collected for composting

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Plants will experience some shock from being cut back. Water them generously (preferably with a compost tea) directly after deadheading to fortify them. Aerating the soil with a garden fork may help as well.

Collect your deadheaded flowers and toss them into a compost bin, or simply spread them as a compost mulch to return their nutrients directly to the soil. Alternatively, collect attractive-looking petals to create a dried arrangement or herbal bouquet.

Perennials to Deadhead for Reblooming

  • Baby's breath (Gypsophila paniculata)
  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
  • Bellflowers (Campanula)
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea)
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera)
  • Delphinium (Consolida ajacis)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis)
  • Garden Phlox (Phlox maculata)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
  • Lavender (Lavandula)
  • Lupine (Lupinus)
  • Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccineum)
  • Speedwell (Veronica spicata)
  • Yarrow (Achillea)
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Do all flowers need to be deadheaded?

    No, it depends on your desired end result. Some gardeners never deadhead, allowing nature to take care of itself. How much you deadhead, if at all, depends on the kind of garden you want.

  • Will deadheading keep tall plants from flopping over?

    Cutting back tall perennials such as garden phlox (Phlox maculata), balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) or asters (Aster) even before they bloom can delay their flowering and reduce the need for staking.