Off with its head! Keep flowers blooming…

July 7th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dead heading Scabiosa 'Kudos Blue'

What, more than any other one thing, keeps flowers blooming? Watering – yes; feeding – yes. But top of the list is deadheading.

When seeds begin to form, hormones are produced in the plant that inhibit the development of more flowers. It’s a matter of biology: the point of flowers is to produce seeds, when the seeds begin to develop no more flowers are needed, flower bud development is suppressed and resources can go into ensuring there are plentiful food reserves in each and every seed.

If the developing seed heads are removed, the flowers keep coming. And the more promptly the fading flowers are cut off the less chance of flower bud development being inhibited.

So we cut off the fading flowers as soon as they no longer contribute to the display. But how?

Well, large individual flowers (calendulas, cornflowers, dahlias etc.) are cut off individually – not at the top of the stem but at the base, where a newer shoot is usually developing. For plants with spikes of smaller flowers (delphiniums, lupins, penstemons etc.), cut off the whole spike when it gets to the stage that the dying flowers are too distracting from the few that still look good. Again, cut the whole spike off just above a newer shoot.

Plants with large numbers of smaller flowers (alyssum, limnanthes, lobelia etc.) need a different approach. These can be clipped using sharp – very sharp – shears or, perhaps more effectively, kitchen scissors. Simply snip over the whole plant. You’ll often snip off good flowers as well as dead ones but, as long as the soil is moist, they’ll soon produce plenty more.

But, basically, there’s just one thing to remember about deadheading: do it.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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