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Guide to Deadheading

What is deadheading?

Deadheading is removing old flower heads before they turn into seeds. It’s usually done by hand or with secateurs.

Why deadhead?

It’s simple – removing old flower heads makes plants produce more flowers that last longer.

Flowers exist to attract pollinating insects, so that the plant can produce seeds for the next generation of plant babies. Once seeds are produced, the plant thinks it’s job done for the season and can take a break and stop flowering. By removing flowers before they turn to seed, you keep the plant’s energy directed towards producing new flowers.

However, deadheading is totally optional. If you’re more of a hands-off gardener and are happy with the flowers nature provides, then your plant will be perfectly happy without.

When to deadhead

When plants are flowering, you should be doing it once every 3-4 days (unless there aren’t many shrivelled flowers). It pairs nicely with watering your container.

What not to deadhead

The exception to the rule is: do not deadhead plants that produce fruits. Deadheading a tomato plant will result in no delicious tomatoes for you to scatter on your salad.

How to deadhead your plants

You can deadhead many plants just by pinching off the old flower heads. Fuchsias are a good example of this.

Removing flowers from a fuchsia 1
A fuchsia flower that is starting to fade and go brown at the edges
Removing flowers from a fuchsia 2
With your finger tips, pinch the base of the flower stalk at the junction it joins the main stem or at the next leaf junction down on the stalk.
Removing flowers from a fuchsia 3
The fuchsia dead head removed

Old flower heads are usually fairly easy to identify as the petals may have started to discolour, gone wrinkly or perhaps fallen off altogether. However, dahlias can be tricky, so we’ll use them as an example of how to deadhead plants with more robust stems that need cutting. We’ll also help you identify the difference between a dead flower on a dahlia and a new flower bud.

Deadheading a dahlia 1
Step 1: find the old flower to deadhead
Deadheading a dahlia 2
Step 2: check it’s not a flower bud
Deadheading a dahlia 3
Step 3: move your secateurs below the dead flower head to the next leaf junction on the same stem
Deadheading a dahlia 4
Step 4: cut the stem of the dead flower head above the leaf junction and at a slight angle