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How to deadhead plants the right way

Regular deadheading can keep your flowers looking great all summer long.

DENVER — The entire purpose of a plant is to reproduce. Flowers don't care if we think they're pretty or smell good. They exist to bloom, attract pollinators, set seed to start a new generation. It's the job of gardeners to thwart the seed making process by deadheading

The whole point of deadheading is to remove the spent flower and the seed capsule. Some people just pull off the dead flower. That accomplishes nothing. You've got to pinch or cut off the seed capsule. This encourages the plant to put out new buds and prevents it from wasting energy making seeds.

Credit: KUSA
A properly deadheaded flower with seed capsule.

Almost all annuals benefit from regular deadheading. This, combined with feeding, will keep your flowers looking their best. Always deadhead snapdragons, petunias, marigolds, salvias, geraniums, and zinnias. Calibrachoas and some varieties of petunias are sterile so they don't need deadheading. Most begonias don't need deadheading but look better if you snap off old flower stems. Don't deadhead sunflowers because the seeds are important food sources for birds.

Credit: KUSA
Sunflower seeds are great food sources for birds.

Perennials that have gone to seed need to be deadheaded and cut back. The method varies. Some, such as catmints, mallows, and hardy geraniums, are best cut all the way down. With daylilies, just remove the scapes. Those are the stems that carry the flowers. Don't cut off any leaves. Removing seed capsules on daylilies especially benefits the reblooming types such as 'Happy Returns' and 'Stella d' Oro.'

Credit: KUSA
A scape removed and deadheaded from a daylily plant.

Deadheading takes time but it pays off by rejuvenating plants and producing more flowers, as well as preventing unwanted seedlings. 

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A painted lady butterfly in Rob Proctor's Garden.

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