Tag Archives: deadheading

dressed to weed


Sunny and warm: a perfect morning for cats and gardeners. The cat had her chores, mainly to stare at interesting things in the garden, and I had mine.


Task #1 was to deadhead the arctotis (African daisy) that has been blooming for several months. This is the “before” on one plant…


…and the “after” on another. Arctotis goes on blooming regardless of whether it’s been deadheaded or not. But the plants looked like they were winding down for the year, and I was hoping to extend their season a bit.

The plants are attractive, but I thought the bucket of trimmings was pretty cool, too.



Chore #2 was to weed one of the patches of bromeliads that we’d let loose in the back of a raised bed. bromeliad-spines The plant has rigid spines like teeth on a sharp saw blade, which makes weeding tricky, and forces you to ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this?”

John started on the task and ended up with bloody forearms. Not happy. He went for the pitchfork, thinking we could lift the clumps, weed under them, and then set the clumps back. These are plants with almost no roots, and that would have worked fine.

But I proposed another idea. I have these long cordura motorcycle gauntlets that I use when I ride my scooter when it’s cold out. They protect your hands, but also your forearms. Would those work for the garden, too?


I suited up, first a thick long-sleeved sweatshirt, and then the gauntlets. Okay, it’s not particularly haute couture, and it’s not a look I’d want to inflict on the world. But it worked.

bromeliad-bloom-closeupWhy all this effort? Well, the flowers are pretty stunning right now in an unrestrained, tropical way. And the plants are surprisingly drought-tolerant.

Weeding around them seems to be the main challenge. But now we’ve got an easy solution…

(Addition, May 9, 2012: Thanks to Kathryn who commented with a probably ID. Tracking down her lead led be to the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies’ Bromeliad Species Database, where the best fit seems to be Aechmea distichantha v. glaziovii. You have no idea how much it bothers me to have a plant that I don’t know the name of, so it’s one more down, a few dozen in the garden to go…)

sharing with the birds

I don’t deadhead every flowering plant in the garden–That would drive me crazy! Besides there are plants that produce seeds that keep the local bird population happy, and many of these plants are annuals that would only come back next year from seed.

Lettuce going to seed

There are some lettuce plants that I’ve been letting go to seed for the last decade or so. I put up with some slightly scrappy looking plants for a month or so. But there are some little yellow-green finches that descend on the vegetable garden, making a most excellent squawking racket. And when the weather turns cool again, there’s a nice little collection of baby lettuces, all from seed, some plants for the salad plate, some to make more seeds for the birds.

deadheading, or, forever 21

You probably know someone like this: Through their young adulthood, through the prime dating years, they hit the gym hard, run, watch what they eat, and pay close attention to styles so that they were always immaculately dressed. But then they eventually meet a mate and settle down. As life’s other priorities take over, the former jock or swimwear model puts on a few midriff pounds and stops being interested in how they look to potential suitors.

That’s the same phenomenon that happens with a lot of flowering plants in the garden. Once they reach maturity, they go crazy putting out flowers to charm pollinators. But before long, the plants have literally gone to seen and start looking scrappy.

These are probably plants that you invited into your garden because of their flowers, not because of their ability to set seed. With many annuals, shrubs and perennials removing the spent flowers–deadheading– is a reliable way to extend the blooming period and keep the plants tidy.

Gaillardia plant
Here’s a plant of the perennial blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella, that I’ve been deadheading regularly for the last two months. Left to its own devices it would set seed and bloom a lot less or not at all. The process isn’t difficult and can be a relaxing way to spend a few minutes in the garden, clippers in one hand and a refreshing beverage in the other.

Of course one of the most satisfying forms of deadheading is to cut flowers with a bit of stem to bring inside and enjoy in a vase!

Gaillardias to deadheadOf these two flowers, the one on the left is ready to be removed.

Bucket of deadheaded bloomsA week’s worth of spent flowers, ready for the recycling or compost.

Here are some basic deadheading guidelines for a few other kinds of plants:

Many annuals (marigolds, calendulas, cosmos, zinnias, geraniums, pansies, petunias): You can pinch off the old flower on most of these, or you can also use a sharp pair of pruners. Fortunately many annuals are bred to be low maintenance, so they can look great for a long time even without the extra work. But a little attention can keep them looking nicer, longer.

Plants with tall stalks of flowers (snapdragons, floxgloves, penstemons, some sages): Wait until the stem has finished blooming or has just a couple of ragged flowers. Cut the entire stalk below where the lowest flower formed, and above a stem node.

Roses (most modern hybrids): Cut the stems to just above a node where you see five leaves emerging. Cutting higher may give you a few more flowers, but they’ll likely be smaller and on weaker stems.

Bulbs: Cut the flowering stem once the blooms have faded, making the cut towards the base of the plant. Even though bulbs generally won’t rebloom the same season after deadheading, cutting off the developing seed heads will allow the leaves to recharge the bulb for next year’s flowering instead of producing seed.