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Perennial plants are a beautiful addition to any garden, showcasing their colourful blooms and foliage year after year. However, to keep them healthy and thriving, it is important to regularly deadhead them. Deadheading simply means removing spent flowers from the plant, which encourages new growth and prolongs the overall bloom time. Not only does this benefit the appearance of the plant, but it also promotes better plant health and can even attract pollinators to the garden. Not everything needs to be deadheaded though, so it's helpful to know what to look for and how to do it.

Reasons to deadhead

Flowers don’t last forever. They eventually start to fade after a while, which starts the spoil their look and affects the overall look of your pots, beds, borders and containers. Which leads people to remove them. But there are other reasons - deadheading regularly directs energy into stronger growth and flower development. Once the flowers are pollinated, seed heads, pods or capsules divert the energy away from growth and flower development. That means the cycle is complete and the plant might eventually stop flowering. If you have plants with lots of petals, things like peonies, camellias and roses, consistent deadheading helps to stop them widely scattering débris. That means less mess in your garden.

Signs that it's time to deadhead

There’s no set time as to when you should be deadheading. It varies depending on different types of plants, so there are signs to look out for to signify the right time. As soon as you see the flowers starting to fade or droop, it’s time to start. The best time is after the first wave of flowers has peaked. Then you can carry on deadheading where possible throughout the flowering cycle. Keep a lookout for wilted flowers, faded petals, fallen petals at the base of the plant and discoloured flower heads.

Plants to deadhead

Most of the perennials that respond well to deadheading will give you flowers all season long, although some might only flower once. Even if they don’t produce more flowers, deadheading will still improve the overall appearance of the plant once it has finished flowering. Shrubs that only bloom once per season, like camellias and lilacs, still benefit. Removing old flowers helps them to maintain healthy leaf and root growth. Other perennials to look out for include geum, peonies, delphiniums, hydrangeas, roses, marigolds and loads more. A lot will give you results for a good chunk of the season and will do so again and again year after year.

How to deadhead

How you deadhead will depend on the specific plant. The main aim is to remove the flower with its stalk, so the plant looks tidy. While there are some you can pinch off with your finger and thumb, plants with tough or stringy stems might require tools. Use secateurs, scissors or a knife for things like dahlias, marigolds, lilacs and calendulas. For hardy geraniums, you need to cut them back to close to ground level after they’ve flowered for a second flush. For roses, you should cut just below the flower head. It’s important to make your cut in the right place in order to stimulate new growth without killing the plant. Try to cut to the closest bud or leaf when cutting back border perennials. That’s really all there is to it. Don’t forget to put all your cuttings into your compost heap once you're finished.

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