The topic for this blog comes courtesy of my good friend (and favorite pharmacist!) Bonnie. I love Bonnie because she has a gardening question for me every time I pick up my prescriptions. Plus, she always has a smile on her face and a cheerful tone in her voice. A while ago Bonnie asked: “How do I know when it’s the right time to deadhead my flowers?” That got me thinking that I’ve never done a blog that explains the mystery of deadheading. So, here goes. Bonnie, this one’s for you!
WHY SHOULD I DEADHEAD MY FLOWERS? Plain and simple, they just look better. Who wants to see faded, dried out and brown flower remnants on their plants? More than aesthetics, though, deadheading your flowers will promote new growth. Trimming right above a node will double the amount of greenery emanating from your plants. Double the size of the plant and all you had to do is snip!
WHEN SHOULD I DEADHEAD MY FLOWERS? After a flower has faded is the right time to deadhead. Of course, most of us don’t have a few minutes each day to ask: “Hum…should I deadhead some flowers in this spare 10 minutes I have?” When you have the time, and if the weather is agreeable, go out and enjoy yourself. Grab your favorite pruners and a yard waste bag and trim away!
WHAT, EXACTLY, SHOULD I DEADHEAD? This was Bonnie’s initial question. She had a Salvia plant and was having a hard time figuring out what was dead and what had not yet bloomed. This is totally understandable, given the fact that the flower of a Salvia are a spike instead of daisy-like. Feel the flower spike that you think might be dead. It will feel thin and papery and will have no color to it at all. Before you trim it away, look for other spikes that feel full and show a hint of color. They will feel different. Full and robust, or other thin and papery- you can figure it out. Say you have a flower like a Dahlia, Daisy or Purple Coneflower. Those may be trimmed after the flower fades. I will make this a smidge difficult for you: I don’t trim the flower heads of Purple Coneflower. The Goldfinches LOVE the seeds and put on quite a show pulling them out of the flower. Plus, anything they drop will reseed and provide new plants next year.
HOW SHOULD I DEADHEAD MY FLOWERS? First, you’ll need a good set of pruners. Don’t skimp here- good pruners will last a lifetime. I have a pair that is about 25 years old and I just adore them- they will be your garden partner for life. You’ll also need a receptacle in which to place the faded flowers. I have a swimming pool and save my large plastic containers for chemicals. I walk around the yard, placing yard waste in them, then I dump the waste into my yard waste dumpster. If you compost, throw the faded flowers into the compost pile. Now, on to the trimming part. Look at the faded flower. Then visually, follow that flower down until you see green leaves. Most plants have leaves that are opposite. The spot where the leaves meet each other is called the node. Cut right above a node. Just leave a tiny bit of stem above the node. This will force new growth, adding double the amount of leaves and, hopefully, double the amount of flowers. The same technique goes for large shrubs like Hydrangeas, medium plants like Coleus or small plants like Pentas. Pick a nice day for deadheading and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the time can fly. After a long day of trimming, treat your pruners to a shot of oil to keep them happy. They’ll reward you with smooth, solid cuts and will prevent rust and premature aging.
In closing, there are plants that never need deadheading. They’re called “self-cleaning.” These are plants like Supertunias, Begonias, Mexican Petunias, Lantana, Knockout Roses and so many more. I trim my Supertunias when they get too leggy, and my Knockout Roses when they get too tall. Some people don’t deadhead their Coleus, I do because it makes for a sturdier and denser plant. Plus, it takes a lot of energy to produce those flowers- I’d rather concentrate on the foliage. Here’s to happy deadheading, all!