Keep gardens neat looking with deadheading

As a garden coach and personal gardener most of my springtime gardening work is done in clients’ gardens. Gardening at home happens in tidbits of time. Fortunately, I only need tidbits of time to keep up with deadheading. Many clients and gardening friends have questions about deadheading – gardeners’ term for removing of spent flowers. But careful attention to how a perennial flowers offers clues to how to deadhead. You don’t want to cut down all green growth since perennials use the greenery to produce energy to survive. But unless you plan to harvest seeds from a specific perennial, allowing it to go to seed is simply taxing the plant’s energy for no good gardening reason. So I expend a fair portion of my home gardening time removing spent blossoms. Beside ensuring perennials don’t waste good energy on seed production, deadheading keeps the gardens looking fresh and allows currently blooming flowers to take center stage.

When spent flowers and stalks are removed, the spikey foliage of iris continues to add interest to gardens.


The Siberian iris flower on the lower right can stay for a day but cut spent flower stalks just above a leaf.

Bearded iris stay looking much neater when spent blossoms are carefully snapped or sliced off.


The blossom on the right will attract all the attention once the spent blossoms are removed. After all blooms have passed, cut the flower stalk off just above a leaf.


Chive blossoms have mostly faded. Pull or snap spent flowers from their stalk. I remove flower stalks later in the season once they turn brown when hey are much easier to pull free.


With no seeds to form, tired looking chive clumps will rejuvenate with new green growth and maybe a few new blossoms later in the season.

Scabiosa will keep flowering until the high heat of mid-summer as long as spent flowers, like those at left center and upper right, are removed.


After a brief period of no blooms, scabiosa will rebloom as cooler late-summer weather prevails.


Peony foliage provides a nice touch of backdrop greenery when spent flowers have been cut just above a leaf node.


Browned flower petals are depressing. The lower right flower can stay for a day or so. The rest must go.

I love the fact that my Oriental poppy gave me three blooms this year – I started the plant from seed a few years back.


I also love the look of the poppy seed pod.


But I’ll soon chop it off to allow the plants to put more energy into spreading and hopefully setting even more blossoms next year.

With so little time to tinker in my own gardens, I’ve taken to leaving a pail at the ready in an inconspicuous spot near a back door. Seeing the pail reminds me to grab a knife, scissors, or pruning shears … and a few minutes each day … to deadhead spent flowers. Do I mind this task? Not at all. It’s a great excuse to wander from plant to plant, to listen to birds sing and feel the breezes blow. I walk away with a feeling of accomplishment, even if I’ve only tended a few plants, and the gardens look better for the attention.

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8 comments for “Keep gardens neat looking with deadheading

  1. June 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Good post. Those popular roses that are hyped as not needing deadheading look and perform much better with proper deadheading. Getting personal with one’s plants gives an opportunity to see if something is eating the leaves or there’s an untoward event.

    • joenesgarden
      June 10, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      Thanks, Nell Jean. I look forward to deadheading and weeding my gardens. It give me time to observe, enjoy and, as you say, get personal with my plants.

  2. June 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    I like to make deadheading part of my daily morning tour of the garden. I carry a basket to gather the spent flowers and then dump it all into the compost at the end of my daily tour. One of the signs that high summer has arrived in my garden is when I have to empty the basket once in the middle of my tour and then refill it again.

    • joenesgarden
      June 11, 2011 at 8:47 am

      Jean, this is a great way to greet each day.

  3. June 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Deadheading is one chore I hate, don’t know why. I actually like to weed, I like to putter and get close to all the plants in the garden, I like to tidy things, but deadheading — meh. Would you come do mine?

    • joenesgarden
      June 12, 2011 at 8:24 am

      Sorry, Laurrie … you’re going to have to learn to do your own deadheading. Tough love.

  4. June 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I’m like Laurrie, I much prefer weeding to deadheading. Probably because I actually have to focus while deadheading and make sure I’m not snipping off the new buds as well as the spent flowers. I added some scabiosa to my garden this spring and already I feel like all I’m doing is deadheading that plant.

    • joenesgarden
      June 12, 2011 at 8:27 am

      I enjoy weeding and deadheading for the same reasons, Debbie. Both provide opportunities to casually work around my plants and clean up the gardens. I hope you are enjoying the dainty, colorful blooms of scabiosa. It only takes a few moments to snip off these spent blossoms.

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