It’s inevitable that at some point those full, vibrant flowers are going to fade and flop. But rather than waiting for them to plop to the ground, it’s so much better to do a little deadheading. While it sounds a little ghoulish, this gardening task simply means pinching off or pruning flowers that are past their blooming period. Sure, it can be a little time-consuming. But there are some botanical benefits you and your garden will be grateful for when you deadhead.
MORE FLOWERS FOR LONGER
Let’s start with the obvious. Most plants typically bloom for a few months. It’s the end of one of their purposes and then they move on to the next, producing seeds. At this point, plants devote their energy and nutrients to producing seeds instead of flowers.
But when you remove spent flowers from an annual or perennial plant, you interrupt that seeding process, and the plant can resume blossoming. It doesn’t always happen, and it works with only some plants, not all. But for those plants that respond well to deadheading — such as geraniums, marigolds, roses, hollyhocks, and peonies — get to it sooner rather than later.
It follows that when you lose fragrant flowers, you lose their fragrance as well. Scent in your garden isn’t just nice to have, it’s good for your health too.
Our sense of smell is directly connected to the part of our brain — the limbic system — that helps to regulate our moods, emotions, memory, and behavior. It’s why we find some scents so relaxing like lavender and gardenia. Being out in nature is already good for your health. Deadheading to keep feel-good fragrances around for longer simply ups the ante.
Then there’s the wildlife factor. Floral scents wafting through the air will woo bees, beetles, dragonflies, birds, and butterflies. These insects in turn help to pollinate your plants, increase flowers and vegetables, and some — like solitary bees — even improve soil content.
A HEALTHIER GARDEN
By eliminating dead or nearly dead flowers before they fall, you also protect other flowers, leaves, and roots. When wet, decaying flowers sit on leaves and roots for a period of time, mildew and more decay can set in, turning your garden into more pain than paradise.
Also, some pests find decaying organic matter very appealing, like gnats. The larvae of these common garden pests can destroy roots, especially those of young plants and seedlings.
Dead flowers are less attractive to pests than dead leaves, but the former can still lure in a few of them, like moths. While these butterfly impostors are also avid pollinators, their caterpillars feast on leaves. Deadheading helps to keep all these plant antagonists — decay, gnats, moth caterpillars, and more — at bay.
MORE CONTROL OVER YOUR GARDEN
Many plants in your garden are the result of complex and controlled germinating. These plants in turn can produce thousands of seeds every year. However, without the same controlled environment and process, the seeds can produce plants that are quite different than the mother plant.
In some cases, you might like the result…but you might not. Also, the young plants might begin to compete with the mother plant for space, essentially crowding out the plant you chose and planted on purpose.
By preventing plants from producing seeds, deadheading gives you more control over your garden. It helps to ensure that existing plants continue to be the stars of the show and have enough room to grow.
MORE NUTRIENT-RICH COMPOST
Thinking of just chucking those dead flowers into the garbage after deadheading? That would be such a waste, in more ways than one.
Compost is essential sustenance for your trees, flowering plants, vegetable beds, and lawn. Dying flowers can enhance the quality of your compost. If they have well and truly had their last moments, they’ll offer carbon to the compost. If they still have a bit of life left in them, they’ll beef up the nitrogen content.
However, don’t add flowers from poisonous plants, such as lilies, tulips, oleander, azaleas, and rhododendron.
FORM AND FUNCTION
There are few sights more unappealing than a tired, messy, more-brown-than-green garden. The remnants of once beautiful flowers scattered around, bright green leaves dulled into oblivion or covered with dead petals, and plants lilting for a lack of love.
Deadheading isn’t just for aesthetic appeal. That nutrient rush plants get when you remove faded flowers benefits foliage and roots too. It helps to keep plants in tip-top shape and encourages fuller, thicker plant growth.
But because a key goal of deadheading is to get more flowers, be careful that you aren’t accidentally pinching or clipping away any new buds. These emerging flowers can sometimes sit just below sadly drooping blossoms.
WHEN NOT TO DEADHEAD
Some plants — such as phlox, petunia, bidens, and begonias — are known as self-cleaners and they don’t need to be deadheaded. Still, you’ll want to tidy up around them when it’s necessary.
While deadheading can be effective for flooding your garden with flowers, it does mean you are sacrificing new plant growth by eliminating seed production. It’s a question of priorities.
If your garden is a bit thin, allowing seeds to flourish can eventually lead to new trees and shrubs that fill in bare spaces beautifully. Just remember, you’ll have to be fine with those little surprise offspring.
Also, some seeds are important sources of food for wildlife. If these are important for you, it’s best to skip deadheading. Ditto if you relish seeing these tiny crops popping up in your garden during the season.
MAKE DEADHEADING PART OF YOUR NATURE
Bet you’re ready to get your deadheading on. While there’s no science on how often you should do it, there is a simple rule of the green thumb. Whenever you’re outside in your garden, remove any faded or wilting flowers you notice. Easy peasy. Got deadheading secrets of your own? Share them with us below.
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