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Why deadheading is dead important

Claire Austin roses in need of deadheading
Claire Austin roses in need of deadheading

Blog: A quick and easy job to get much more from your plants…

Now that’s what I call gardening – a warm(ish) day in July when all the hard graft is over and you’re pottering about, concentrating on getting the best out of your plants – but what do you need to do?

If you’re a new gardener, hopefully, you’ll be doing the obvious – watering and feeding – especially plants in pots.

The next best job you can do is deadheading – removing fading or dead flower heads from ornamentals (we’ll ignore fruit and veg for this post).

By ornamentals, I mean the showy stuff you don’t eat! You need to deadhead the following (by no means an exhaustive list).

Which plants to deadhead

Why bother to deadhead?

You’ve put in the hard work – don’t let your flowering plants fizzle out. That’s the point of deadheading, you’re making sure the plant directs its energy into producing more flowers (and roots/leaves), rather than seeds. Let’s face it, that’s why you’re growing them!

Many plants, notably sweet peas, will ‘switch off’ their flowering mechanism if they manage to set seeds – that is what they are trying to do, after all. That’s why you need to get picking and deadheading.

When the plants are in full leaf and you’re after more flowers, give them a high potash feed (usually sold as a tomato feed, like Tomorite). This will encourage the plant to produce flowers over leaves.

Nip out flowers from Coleus as soon as you see them form
Nip out flowers from Coleus as soon as you see them form

An instant garden spruce-up

From an aesthetic point of view, it’s very soothing to nip out dead flowers with your finger and thumb from annuals as you’re pottering around – no special skills or tools needed. While you’re at it, remove any dead or diseased leaves.

Roses are a bit more technical – get sharp secateurs and pinch out any finished blooms so they don’t spoil the rest. When the whole flowering head has lost all its petals, cut the stem just above the first leaf with five leaflets.

If you have a climbing rose, gently bend any long stems horizontally and tie them in, which will encourage more flowering shoots to form.

Some plants, like Coleus, are grown for their decorative leaves, not their raggy flowers – nip these out as soon as you see them – it’ll help keep them bushy. More often known as houseplants, they’re easy to grow from seed and look great outdoors in summer. They’re so easy to grow from cuttings, just place a stem in a cup of water. When roots form, pot them up.

Snow on a frozen Rudbeckia Goldsturm stem
Snow on a frozen Rudbeckia Goldsturm stem

What not to deadhead

Anything that has decorative fruits or seedheads – roses with hips, single-stemmed sunflowers, most herbaceous perennials you want for winter structure at the end of the season (it’s OK to deadhead them before this), needs to be left well alone.

Plants you want to set seed so you can collect them to sow next year, or biennials like foxgloves that self-seed.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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