No, this is not an article on the trials, exhilarations and tribulations of The Grateful Dead.  It’s about dead flowers.  Dead flowers should be removed from annuals, perennials, bulbs and shrubs as soon as possible to prevent seeds from forming.  As far as the plant is concerned aka if the plant had a mind with a goal, seed formation is the top priority.  Once flowers turn to seed, future flower formation, which is what most of us want, is greatly reduced.

deadhead hand pruners

It’s easy to remove or “deadhead”, especially larger flowers such as roses, salvia, yarrow, geraniums, lilacs, marigolds, zinnias and dogwoods.  The technique is to simply cut off the faded flowering stem at the point where another younger stem has been produced.  A flower clippers/pruners, a slightly smaller tool than a hand pruners is the best garden gizmo for the job.  Smaller flowers such as ageratum and alyssum are more difficult, but thankfully are self-deadheading.  Some flowers such as calibrachoa, coleus and petunia benefit from pinching, which is removal of the entire stem by a third, with the same goal in mind.


The important distinction is that the deadheading technique will encourage annuals and perennials to produce more flowers, while for bulbs and shrubs, it’s just a good “redirect the energy” practice.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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