Deadhead those annuals!


Deadheading – the practice of removing spent blooms – has many benefits. It encourages annuals to keep blooming, it keeps garden bullies in their place by eliminating blossoms before they can set and disperse seed, and removing shriveled flowers just makes plants look better.


When annuals grow, they are on a mission to reproduce. All their energy is directed to flower and then seed production so they can live on through their progeny. When flowers are removed before they can set seed, the plant tries to reproduce again by producing more flowers.

Verbena bonariensis

Plants that scatter seed with abandon become garden thugs, taking up space meant for other plants or growing where their gardeners have decided they don’t belong. Deadheading spent blooms before they can disperse their seeds lets gardeners enjoy favorite annuals while keeping them under control.

I don’t know anyone who delights in brown, dried-up or withered flowers. We deadhead them so they don’t detract from fresh, new blooms. Deadheading may also cause the annual to branch, helping the plant maintain a nice bushy form.

There is a variety of methods of deadheading – snapping, snipping or pruning, pinching, and shearing – and each one is easy.

Some stems simply snap off where they join another stem. Geraniums are the best example of annuals to deadhead by snapping.

Geranium - Spent Flower

Geranium - Base of Stem

Geranium - Snap Stem

Flowers that bloom on long stems are best removed by snipping or pruning. Stems are cut back as close as possible to a lower branch or set of leaves. Examples of annuals to snip include Calendula, Cosmos, Heliotrope and Nicotiana.

Cosmos - Spent Flower

Cosmos - Stem at Lateral Leaf

Cosmos - Snip Stem

To pinch, grasp the stem below a spent flower just above a set of leaves and break it off. Stems that can be pinched could also be snipped if the gardener prefers. Ageratum, marigolds, Pentas and petunias are some of the annuals to deadhead by pinching.

Pentas - Base of Stem

Pentas - Pinch Stem

Shearing works best on annuals with a mass of small blooms. Grab a handful of stems and, using a pair of pruners or grass shears, cut them back by at least half. New growth will begin quickly and in a few weeks, new flowers buds will appear. Deadhead Alyssum, Dianthus, love-in-a-mist and Nemesia by shearing.

Alyssum - Grab a handful of stems.

Alyssum - Cutting Stems

Alyssum - Freshly Cut Stems

Many annuals can be deadheaded by more than one method. For instance, Dianthus can be sheared or snipped. Snipping is more surgical and takes more time, but the plant will never be without flowers for more than a day or two.

Dianthus 'Telstar Purple Picotee'

Some plants do not need to be deadheaded. These annuals are self-cleaning and continue to bloom without deadheading. Wax begonias, Browalia, million bells (Calibrachoa), impatiens, Lobelia, and flowering vinca are examples of self-cleaning annuals. They can still, however, be pruned back if they become leggy.

Calibrachoa Combination - Sundance

Deadheading can be the difference between a nice garden and jaw-dropping, traffic-stopping landscape. Grab your pruning snips and grass shears, get ready to do some deadheading, and garden with me!





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