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Anyone with anything more than a passing interest in gardening has heard the term deadheading. For the uninitiated, deadheading is the removal of spent blooms from a flowering plant.

The primary reason for removing these blooms is to keep the plant more attractive throughout its normal blooming cycle, but that’s not the only reason.

Deadheading prolongs the blooming time for many plants. Blooms on a plant aren’t just there for our enjoyment, they are there to attract insects like bees, to help pollinate them so they can produce seeds.

Through the evolution of plants, they have developed specific ways of reproduction. The most common form is accepting pollen from another like plant that then produces a seed which in turn will later produce an offspring. Many plants developed some type of flower for this process. The flower attracts insects through site and smell. The insect comes to the plant as a food source. Inside each flower is a small amount of liquid called nectar. The insect sips on the sweet nectar produced by the flower. In the process of sipping on the nectar, it usually brushes up against pollen located within the walls of the flower. The insect then moves on to another flower in search of more food. When it goes to another flower, some of the pollen from previous flowers is deposited inside the flower and pollination then occurs.

This transfer of pollen leads to fertilization and successful seed and fruit production. Pollination ensures that a plant will produce full-bodied fruit and a complete set of fertile seeds, capable of germinating.

What does all of this have to do with deadheading? The answer is that when a flower becomes fertilized, it no longer needs to produce additional flowers hoping to produce enough seeds to reproduce. It has accomplished its primary goal of producing seed. When you deadhead a plant, you are in a way fooling the plant into producing more flowers because the last batch of flowers did not produce enough viable seeds.

Besides interrupting the seed production cycle and encouraging additional blooms, you are also keeping some plants like perennials from spreading or growing out of their allotted space in the garden. Keeping seeds from ripening will also keep a plant stronger and healthier.

How to deadhead

There are multiple ways of deadheading depending on the type of bloom.

  • Individual flowers: for plants with individual flowers such as petunias you remove the spent flower by either snipping of the bloom just below the flower with either scissors or just pinching it with your fingernail and snapping if off.

  • Flower clusters: small flowers that bloom in clusters such as geraniums, Shasta daisies, and bee balm need to have the entire stem removed down to where it branches off the main shoot.

  • Entire plant: perennials that produce a lot of blooms over the entire plant may make it difficult to remove individual blossoms such as dianthus, coreopsis, and baby’s breath. These require shearing after the majority of the flowers fade. This will keep the plant in a neat looking shape, and may even trigger a second bloom in plants that normally only flower once during the growing season.