Question: How can I make colorful flowers throughout my landscape last longer?
Answer: When reading descriptions for flowering plants, you often see deadheading listed as one of the chores. Deadheading is removal of dead flowers from plants. A flowering plant’s main purpose in producing a flower is so it will be pollinated and produce seeds. A plant produces seeds as a survival mechanism. Deadheading a plant, by removing spent flowers, “tricks” the plant into thinking that its job is not complete and it will continue trying to produce flowers.
The main reason for deadheading is to help extend the blooming period of a plant. Some flowering plants will go to seed too early in the growing season. By deadheading plants you are able to enjoy the flowers longer into the season. Some flowering plants that benefit from deadheading include: coreopsis, cosmos, crape myrtle, daisies, daylilies, dianthus, geraniums, marigolds, pansies, petunias, rudbeckia, snapdragons, and zinnias. A few plants that do not need deadheading because they are self-cleaning include: begonia, impatiens, lantana, Mexican zinnia, salvia, verbena (groundcover type), and vinca.
Another reason to deadhead plants is to remove unsightly spent flowers so that your plant continues to look attractive. Plants like daylilies and petunias look bad if the brown, withered flowers are left on the plant. Removing the dead flowers can also be beneficial in that it eliminates dead plant material that would otherwise be an ideal location for pest problems to enter the plant and develop into a problem. Some flowering plants with large blooms should be clipped off to prevent the dried up flowers from drooping and breaking the stem. Deadheading is needed for some flowers that easily spread or multiply to get rid of spent flowers before they go to seed. Deadheading flowers also helps keep a plant healthier and stronger.
Roses are probably the best example of plants that benefit from deadheading. Modern roses should be deadheaded to get continuous bloom while old-fashion roses will only bloom once and won’t benefit from deadheading. Cut roses back to the first set of five leaflets and a new bud will likely sprout from that point. You do want to be sure to stop deadheading roses around late summer to signal the plant that it is finished flowering and should prepare for winter.
The time to deadhead is when the flower starts to brown, wither, or appear past its peak. Deadhead flowers that are on long stems by cutting the stem of the flower where it connects with the main stem or at the first set of leaves. For many flowering plants, you can simply go through and pinch off the dead flowers. When you think about having to remove all those withered flowers off of some plants, the task of deadheading could seem overwhelming or too much trouble. Luckily for plants like dianthus and petunias that have a lot of small flowers, you can simply shear the plant by cutting the flowers all at once.
If you grow plants not only for the flowers but to save seeds you would not want to deadhead plants. You would rather leave the flowers on the plant and let the seeds form, mature, and dry before collecting and storing them. The brown, dried-up flowers of some plants may provide additional interest and contrast to where you would want to leave the dead flowers on a plant.
So for those flowering annuals and perennials that you want to see blooming throughout the growing season don’t forget to remove those brown, withering flowers so that you can enjoy a longer flowering season.
Reminder: On May 5, 2012 from 10 am to 2 p.m. is the annual Community Ag Day Event at the Sampson County Extension Center. During this event, the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers will be having a plant sale to raise funds for their educational programs and projects. Please come out and join us. A growing program this year is the “Sampson County Friends of Horticulture”. This program offers monthly “How To” Horticultural Seminars. Please call (910) 592-7161 for more information. Please call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center at (910) 592-7161 with your horticultural questions and to register for any upcoming events. Be sure to check out the Ask An Expert Widget at sampson.ces.ncsu.edu for any questions you may have.