The term "dead-heading" might sound a little harsh, even malicious to some gardening novices. But it's actually one of the easiest maintenance items you can do in your flower beds to promote stunning and healthy plants all season. It helps keep the garden neat and tidy just like regular house keeping.
In the most basic terms, deadheading means the removal of flowers that have already put on their show.
Flowers were put on this earth to bloom and look gorgeous. Their vibrant colors and radial shapes attract bees and to get themselves pollinated so they can produce seed to insure the survival of their species. (Bee pollination is fascinating and is a topic for another discussion, my friends)
On the other hand, our goal as gardeners is to keep the plants from setting seeds so we can encourage more blooming. It may sound really selfish but I promise no harm will come to your plants. As an added benefit, you can also keep certain spreading plants under control. Examples: Coneflower, Daisy, Lythrum, Columbine
FIRST let's talk about HOW to dead-head and then we can discuss WHAT kinds of plants to dead-head.
I always start out with hole-free pair of gloves (to save my nails, darling!), sunscreen (to save this lily white skin), a pair of knee pads or piece of foam (to save my knees), a lawn debris bag in a wheel barrow (to save my back) and a great pair of pruners (to save my hands). **
**Apparently, I'm delicate.
Your plants will appreciate being cut with a pair of heavy duty pruners that are sharp ( get your file or dremel out) and clean (rust free). It's helpful to make sure the nuts are tight and well oiled.
I remove canna flowers about once a week to keep a steady supply of blooms for my hummingbirds.
My go-to rule is to follow the flower stem back to the first leaf and make my cut. This helps hide the cut so you don't look like you butchered your plants. Energy will flow back to the area and start to form new flower buds. Here are a few more examples from my yard:
Some perennials have really long stalks. In that case, you may cut the stem all the way at the base of the foliage, as pictured here.
For plants with lots of tiny flowers like Coreopis, Hardy Geranium, or Catmint. I find the ponytail method more effective. Gather up the foliage and give it a clean, blunt chop. These fast growing plants recover quickly with a new flush of blooms for fall.
A lot of perennials will flower in spurts, so it might not be necessary to deadhead all flowers at once, just the old ones. This daisy plant will look much better once it is cleaned up.
Here's a great illustration I found in Fine Gardening Magazine regarding the possible stages of cutting.
This is a practice that can be put in place with some shrubs, a lot of perennials (come back every year), and most annuals (must be replanted every year).
Shrubs to deadhead for reblooming: Knockout Roses, Carpet Roses, some Hydrangeas, Butterfly Bush, Crapemyrtles, Clethra.
Shrubs to deadhead for tidiness: Viburnum, Azalea, Rhododendron, Lilac, Wisteria, Yucca.
Perennials to deadhead for reblooming: Dianthus, Reblooming Daylily varieties Bee Balm, Blanket Flower, Butterfly Weed, Columbine, Delphinium, Foxglove, Garden Phlox, Gaura, Geranium, Geum, Hollyhock, Lavender, Monkshood, Penstemon (Beardtongue), Salvia, Pincushion Flower, Queen of Meadow, Daisies, Sneezeweed, Veronica, Spiderwort, Stoke’s Aster, Coreopsis, Yarrow, Corydalis, Black Eyed Susan.
Perennials to cut back to improve appearance: Astilbe, Iris, Bergenia, Catmint, Bellflower, Coralbells, Daylilies, Goatsbeard, Hellebores, Hostas, Jacob’s Ladder, Anemones, Lady’s Mantle, Lamb’s Ear, lungwort, Mulleins, Obedient Plant, Peonies, Torch Lilies, Perennials Hibiscus, Sea Thrift.
If all of this is feeling a bit overwhelming and you prefer a good old fashioned book like me. I strongly recommend this one to keep on hand.
It's been such a thorough resource for me over the years. Here's a snippet of what to expect. This is about the tall garden phlox.
The list of annuals you can control by deadheading and pinching back is virtually endless and their are a TON of resources available online. So don't be afraid to get your Google on to learn more. Then get out there and give it a whirl. Good luck!