The Campbell family, owners of Danville Gardens, from left, Lisa, Kendall, 12, Caleb, 9, and Nathan, from Danville, Ill., work together deadheading geraniums in the greenhouse. Since coming to Danville in 1993, Lisa and Nathan Campbell have accomplished some great things, including growing a successful gardening business without giving up quality time with their two children. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Deadheading sounds like torture, but it’s actually a nice thing to do

  • Jul. 27, 2017 2:20 p.m.

Deadheading is a bit of horticultural jargon that often raises a puzzled look. While the term sounds a bit like medieval torture, it is, in fact, a very nice thing to do for all kinds of garden flowers.

Instead of signaling the end of life, as it might were we in the 15th century, it actually accomplishes the opposite. That is because removal of fading, spent or dead blooms can actually spur robust new growth for most annuals. While such popular bedding plants as impatiens, periwinkles, and begonias tend to drop spent flowers, many others need our help to do this important work.

And while these hot days don’t entice us to spend all afternoon outdoors, deadheading is a task that can be accomplished simply and, depending on the size of the flowerbed, rather quickly.

This is often a down-on-your-knees task that gets you up-close to the flowers. Since my knees got older, I have opted for a lightweight, plastic kitchen stool that I carry around to sit on.

The act of deadheading is quite simple. Little flowers such as marigolds and petunias can be removed by pinching the soft stem between your thumb and finger. Larger blooms with stronger stems will require clipping with small shears or scissors. Some modern petunias possess the vigor and stamina to keep going without deadheading, but even they benefit from the result, which is a better-looking plant.

Deadheading encourages fresh growth because it prevents the formation of seed by the plant. When an annual goes to seed, it tends to think life is done with, and the plant declines. But removal of the spent flowers before seed formation keeps the plant growing and producing flowers. It is simply the plant showing its will to live by bearing seeds to produce the next generation.

Most roses also benefit greatly from deadheading because it encourages fresh growth to bear new flowers.

Perennials, which tend to produce a single show of long-lasting flowers, also benefit from deadheading because removal of the old flowers makes the bed look better. This is especially true for perennials that produce lush foliage, such as the Becky Shasta daisy, which is good-looking on its own. However, some perennials may be encouraged to put out fresh blooms after deadheading.

Daylilies benefit from removal of spent blooms. Individual spent blooms are easy to pinch off, and once the stalk has bloomed out entirely, it can be removed, with the foliage left undisturbed through the summer and fall.

None of these tasks represent hard work and can be done in the evening or early morning, when the temperature is reasonable.

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