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Caring for Perennials: Deadheading

December 19th, 2007

Caring for Perennials: Deadheading

The practice of pruning enables the gardener to regulate plant shape and size, and to control flowering and fruiting. Benefits of pruning include: extended bloom time, plant regeneration, and the stimulation of new growth. Deadheading is one form of pruning for perennials.

Deadheading includes the removal of fading and dead flower heads. It is beneficial because it encourages repeat blooming and directs the plants energy toward new growth. If spent flowers are not removed they eventually go to seed, and producing seed consumes a large amount of the plant’s energy. Deadheading redirects the energy into vegetative and root growth, rather than producing seeds. This promotes a stronger, more vigorous plant. By minimizing self-seeding, deadheading also helps keep plants in their designated place in the garden.

By pruning dead flowers to a new lateral flower or to a lateral bud, one can mask the cuts that have been made and not detract from the appearance of the plant. Deadheading differs depending on species and growth habit.

In some cases, deadheading should be avoided. Some gardeners rely on perennials to self-seed. Common self-seeding perennials include: lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), columbine (Aquilegia hybrids), aster (Aster novi-belgii), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), bishop's goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum'), bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), dame's rocket (Hesperis matronalis), maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides), orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), wild sweet william (Phlox divaricata), sweet violet (Viola odorata).

Some perennials have beautiful seedheads such as hydrangea and false indigo (Baptisia austalis that may be desired. Another reason to avoid deadheading is to provide seeds for birds. Some plants that provide a good source of seed include: Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius), spike gayfeather (Liatris spicata), beebalm (Monarda didyma), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and hosta.