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What does deadheading mean?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is written by members of the Lycoming County Master Gardeners.)

Q: Is it really necessary to deadhead flowers?

A: Your flowers will survive without deadheading, but they may not look very attractive.

Deadheading is the process of removing faded and dead flowers from plants. It also can involve pruning old growth and removing seed heads.

Deadheading serves two major purposes — it keeps your flowers blooming longer and it keeps plants from spreading.

Annual plants heave one major mission and that is to grow, set seeds and die. Deadheading disrupts this mission by not letting the plant set seeds. So the plant blooms again and again in an effort to fulfill its seed-making destiny.

If a plant goes to seed, it will stop blooming. After all, seed setting is the main event for plants, so they will devote all their energy to this process.

Perennials are plants that live for more than two years. They too stop flowering when they set seeds.

What perennials do that may be troublesome is drop seeds that will produce baby plants. If you want these plants, that is great, but if you don’t want your perennials spreading, deadheading is the answer.

Some plants that spread easily are hollyhocks, columbine, foxglove, lobelia, forget-me-nots and catmint.

Many perennials also will bloom again if they are not allowed to seed. Perennials that fit this category are coreopsis, delphinium, gaillardia, hardy geranium, bee balm and dianthus.

I personally enjoy deadheading because it is a quick way to spruce up my flowerbeds. It really isn’t difficult if you keep up with it by deadheading a few times a week.

There are several different ways to deadhead your flowers. Plants such as hardy geraniums and Moonbeam coreopsis have clusters of tiny flowers. The best way to deadhead them is to shear the plant with a long-bladed hedge shear.

Single flowers such as zinnias can be cut down to the next set of leaves. This can be done with scissors or garden clippers.

Spiky flowers that have many small flowers along the sides of a tall stem need to have the entire stalk cut off right above the next set of leaves. Spiky flowers include salvia, lupine and foxglove.

Some flowers such as roses bloom in clusters. To deadhead them, you will need to clip off the individual flowers as they begin to die. This will channel energy into the plants, other flowers and buds.

Cutting the stem off at the base is the best deadheading method for flowers that grow on long stems, such as daylilies and hostas.

As fall approaches, you may choose to let your plants go to seed. This is, of course, necessary if you want baby plants in the spring. In addition, some seedpods are attractive and can be left in the garden until spring cleanup. Flowers such as echinacea and rudbeckia also provide food for wildlife during the winter.

Deadheading is a good way to visit with your individual plants and assess how they are doing. To me, it is much more enjoyable than weeding.

Lehman, of South Williamsport, learned to love gardening from her mother who was a passionate gardener.

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