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What is deadheading? When should I do it?

When flowers have gone past and plants begin to form seeds, in some cases, deadheading--cutting off the spent flowers--can encourage more blooms. If you allow plants to form seeds, their energies will focus on that process. Cut back flowers that have faded and you can get more flowers or more robust plants.

Most annuals will produce more blooms if you regularly deadhead them. Cut the flowering stem back to a healthy leaf. Some perennials also will repeat bloom or continue blooming if you deadhead them, particularly those that bloom on stems that also bear leaves. In the case of perennials, deadheading often will cause plants to become bushier and more compact. This category includes pink evening primrose, gaillardias, salvias, scabiosa, coneflowers, tall phlox, asters, veronicas and coreopsis. In some cases, including coreopsis 'Moonbeam' and pink evening primrose, shearing back the entire plant by one-third to one-half will encourage both rebloom and compact growth.

Although most plants with leafless flower stalks that rise above crowns of basal leaves will not rebloom, you still should deadhead. In these cases, deadheading will direct their energy toward forming healthy root systems, healthy foliage and a tidier appearance. Cut each flower stalk off at its base. The daylily 'Stella d'Oro' is an exception in that it often will send up repeat blooms if regularly deadheaded.

Although deadheading is not necessary for plant health, some flowering shrubs also benefit from deadheading. Lilac, azalea, rhododendron, magnolia, buddleia and mountain laurel are among the shrubs that will gain by this practice.

There always are exceptions: Don't deadhead faded flowers of baptisia, lunaria, blackberry lily or any other plant that bears decorative berries, seedheads or pods later in the season.