Southern Gardening: Remove spent flowers to prolong blooming

June 16, 2018 10:01:36 PM



This past Saturday and Sunday turned into a typical work weekend in my garden and landscape. 


It was hot and humid, and, of course, I was soaking wet. As I sat on a 5-gallon bucket taking a break, my mind wandered as I took a visual inventory and looked at the next job that needed doing. I have 25 15- and 25-gallon containers, 136 subirrigated containers and a bunch of 3- and 5-gallon pots. 


I found myself questioning what I thought would look good when I was making plans in March. It did look good in March, but now it's June, and I find myself second-guessing those earlier decisions. 


Now, on the plus side, most of the flowering plants I'm growing are called "self-cleaning." This means the flowers naturally fall off as they start to fade and new ones are produced. 


I love my Supertunias, Superbells, calibrachoa, etc. Can you imagine having to deadhead calibrachoa, a favorite that produces so many flowers it is also known as million bells? These self-cleaning flowers make my gardening obsession worthwhile. In other words, I love flowering plants that don't have to be deadheaded. 


But there are some flowering plants that require a little more hands-on care through the summer. Deadheading is one chore that definitely helps some plants stay pretty all season. 


Deadheading has several benefits for flowering plants in the landscape. It extends the bloom period, maintains garden plant health and removes the seed source of beautiful flowering plants that have the potential of becoming a weedy mess for years to come. Deadheading many of our flowering summer plants encourages them to continue or restart their bloom cycles. 


When you consider that plants don't flower for our gardening pleasure, it makes sense to remove the spent flowers. The primary goal of flowering is for plants to produce seed for the continuation of the species. 


Flowering plants are capable of producing hundreds or even thousands of seeds each year. Deadheading these species before the seeds are produced alleviates the problem of unwanted seedling germination. 


Plants like coleus that we grow for the foliage also need deadheading. Removing the nonshowy flowers allows the colorful foliage to be the focus. Breeders have done a good job in delaying flowering until very late in the season for many of the newer sun coleus selections, but blooms still pop up. 


For plants with single flowers, all you have to do is remove the flower stalk. You can increase bloom size by removing side flowers buds from lateral growth so more energy is sent to the main flower. This removal also reduces any seed production pressure later in the season or next year. 


Collecting beautiful stems of coneflower, rudbeckia or coreopsis for indoor arrangements is also a form of deadheading. 


For a little deadheading fun, see our Southern Gardening TV segment, 


Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi and hosts Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at [email protected]