Dig It! Deadheading for More Blossoms
by Sage & Snow Garden Club
June 4, 2008
Why do we plant just one moonbeam coreopsis in our garden? The answer: deadheading.
Deadheading (no Dan, this has nothing to do with the Greatful Dead) is the practice of removing dead or fading flowers from annuals and perennials to keep the garden in continuous bloom. It prevents the plant from setting seed and tricks it into producing more flowers. While it does not affect the health of the plants, it makes the garden tidier and much more beautiful.
To deadhead a plant, remove the faded flower with your thumb and forefinger. Either pinch the stalk back to the ground (hostas, coral bells, ladies mantle, poppies, bee balm, delphinium, lupines, penstemon) or pinch back to where the dead flower and stalk join the stem (petunias, pansies, geraniums, begonias, phlox, yarrow and pinks). For both perennial and annual salvia, cut just below the leaves of the dead flower.
A favorite edible garden green is arugula, which is not often available at the grocery store. Plant it in early June and the first delicious leaves appear in two weeks. If allowed to flower, though, leaves become bitter, so cut off the white flowers. When the plant becomes too ungainly, pull it up and plant more seeds.
Sometimes fingers won’t do the job so use clippers (which are always getting lost, no matter how many we have). Until recently, we’ve followed the rule for roses that says to cut the dead bloom at a 45 degree angle above the first five leaves. Modern experts now say to nip the dead bud at the base of the flower, which is much less time consuming.
Deadhead lilacs immediately after blooming. Although they won’t repeat bloom this summer, deadheading prevents seed formation and will make the shrub flower more profusely next year. Do the same for iris and spring bulbs; remove the stem and dead flower, but let the foliage die back naturally so the bulbs will gain nutrients for next year. Plant annuals close to the bulbs to hide yellowing foliage.
Pinching back is related to deadheading. It is the practice of pinching off buds before they bloom to make a plant bushier. Zinnias. Marigolds, and coleus profit from this practice early in the season. Pinch back pansies and bacopa later in the summer to prevent them from becoming straggly.
Are you tired yet? Deadheading is definitely a chore, but it also gives us the opportunity to observe our gardens closely. You can deadhead to find weeds and occasionally a plant that has flown into the garden all by itself. It becomes a peaceful activity.
Now to return to why we don’t have five moonbeam coreopsis. As Diane Ackerman says in her delightful book, Cultivating Delight, a Natural History of My Garden, deadheading “will teach you humility…The new buds form so close to the flowers that you can’t deadhead several at once. You need sharp pointed scissors and the patience of Penelope.” Some sources say that you can safely shave these plants, while losing a few buds, but saving time. We don’t want shaved plants so will have one moonbeam coreopsis… or maybe three, but definitely not five. We recommend that you put Diane Ackerman’s book on your wish list for next Christmas. It is a perfect antidote to winter because if you deadhead, you won’t have time to read it in the summer.
To request more information on how specific plants respond to deadheading, contact the Sage and Snow Garden Club at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Garden Club meets at noon on the second Tuesday of each month in the Pinedale Library. Contact the Sage and Snow Garden Club at Box 2280, Pinedale, WY, 82941 or by email.