Does Cutting Flowers Kill The Plant? (5 Ways It Can Help)

cut back snapdragon flower

Are you wondering whether cutting flowers can harm or kill the plant when you go out to harvest a bouquet? Well, although it may seem counterintuitive, cutting a flowering plant is more often helpful than harmful. Whether you’re pruning back old growth or cutting an armful of fresh blooms, there are many times throughout the season that you’ll need to get out your clippers and make the cut.

Cutting flowers from a plant generally won’t kill it. There are many reasons to cut flowers off a plant, from deadheading old blooms to pruning off old foliage. Even when a plant isn’t blooming, cutting it back via pinching can be beneficial and result in more flowers than an uncut plant. 

Follow along to learn when each cutting opportunity pops up in a flower’s life, and get more blooms along the way. 

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Five ways to cut your flowers without killing the plants

1. Pinching

This method doesn’t usually cut off actual flowers but rather the plant itself before it starts to bloom. 

Pinching means letting a plant grow to about 12 inches tall then cutting off the top 3-4 inches, right above a set of leaves. Trimming a plant this way will encourage it to grow more lateral branches instead of one large central stem with fewer side shoots. 

Those side shoots will each produce a flower bud, increasing the number of productive stems on a single plant.

Cutting off a third of your healthy plant might feel awkward, but it does work. Flowers such as cosmos, salvia, zinnias, and snapdragons will all produce more blooms if pinched while young. 

Pinching back is common among flower farmers who need to get the most blooms they can from their production space. Check out this video from Shifting Roots for tips and examples on how to get the best results.

2. Deadheading

Deadheading means removing the old flower after it’s done blooming. All pollinated flowers will eventually turn to seed, signaling the plant that it can stop making fresh ones. 

By removing the old blooms, you’re delaying the seed-setting process and encouraging the plant to make another attempt by putting out fresh buds. Keep the cycle going all season, and you’ll (almost) never run out of flowers.

To deadhead, cut the stem of the old flower at a leaf junction. Make the cut right above where you see two leaves on the stem, and you will encourage new growth and the formation of a new bud.

You can also just pop the old bloom off at the top of the stem instead of cutting the whole thing off, but it won’t encourage new growth in the same way as a lower cut. But it is a quick method for when you’re in a hurry. If it’s a choice between using this technique and not deadheading at all, then get popping.

If you’re unsure which of your plants will need deadheading, check out this post, Should I Deadhead my Cut Flowers, Too? and learn which ones you can help keep in bloom with a timely snip. 

Speaking of snipping, these corona snips are perfect for deadheading throughout the season:

My favorite garden shears

I constantly misplace my garden shears and clippers, so I’ve tested a lot of pairs. Good thing these ones have red handles to help me keep track of them!

3. Cutting back

Some annual flowers will benefit from a light trim midseason, known as shearing or cutting back. Cutting back means cutting off stems with a mix of old and new blooms, but it won’t kill the plant. 

On the contrary, it can mean getting another round of flowers in the same season. Cutting back is often used for cool-season bloomers. As the summer weather warms up, they’ll start to look scraggly and stop producing flowers altogether.

Once that happens, cut back the blooming stems to the same level as the foliage you’ll leave in place. The foliage will continue to photosynthesize and make food for the plant while it’s dormant in the summer heat. 

As the weather cools, the plants often send out new stems and flower buds for a second round of blooms. 

Other annuals that can benefit from being cut back are:

  • Salvia
  • Scabiosa
  • Calendula
  • You can try this with zinnias, especially if the plant has been infected with powdery mildew.

Some flowering herbs such as mint, cat mint, pineapple sage, and lavender can also benefit from being cut back. Mint, in particular, can look a bit tired after months of growth and blooms. The stems get spindly, the leaves can develop yellow and brown spots, and you might see slug or snail damage. 

If that’s the case for you, cut the plant back heavily (almost pruning) to its center clump of branches to encourage new, sturdy growth. 

4. Pruning

Pruning means heavily cutting back branches and stems on a plant, more than just cutting back. Rather than killing the plant, pruning the right way can improve the plant’s performance and keep it healthy.

Pruning is most frequently done with perennial flowers that will overwinter in the garden, though you can prune some plants like black-eyed Susan if they get too overgrown before the end of the season. 

large black eyed susan recently cut back
This black-eyed Susan got a light pruning. I left some stems because they’re hollow and insects can overwinter there, but there were many damaged and diseased leaves.

I’d recommend against pruning or cutting back your flowers in the fall if you can. Many overwintering birds, beneficial insects, and pollinators can use dead or overgrown plants in the garden as shelter and a food source, so spring is a better time to prune. 

If you prune in spring, make sure to complete the task before the branches start to leaf out too much. There’s no point in a plant putting its energy into growing branches and buds that you’ll soon remove. Let it focus its energy on what remains after pruning. 

You can prune spring and fall bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, iris, and dahlias (technically a tuber) once the foliage (the leaves and soft stems) dies, as the bulb has stored all the energy it needs for the next season.

5. Harvesting

Harvesting is the primary way you’ll cut flowers from the plant, but the vast majority of the time, it won’t kill it. There are two types of flowers, and when and how you cut them will affect their lifespan. 

One-and-done types will produce one flower per plant. When you cut it, you won’t kill the plant outright, but it will stop growing and producing blooms, leading to its eventual death. 

Cut-and-come-again types will produce blooms for weeks or months at a time. Instead of dying when you harvest its flowers, the plant will respond by developing new branches and buds. This type of flower is fantastic for cutting gardens because you get so many blooms from one plant. 

Once you have your armful of flowers, treat them right, so they have the longest possible vase life. Get all these tips in this article: 7 Pro Tips To Help Your Cut Flowers Stay Fresh.

With that, you’ve got what you need to keep your flowers alive and blooming all season!

FAQ

Should I fertilize after cutting back or pruning my flowers?

If you’re deadheading, cutting back, or harvesting midseason, you should fertilize your flowers to maintain their performance. Plants pruned at the end of the season don’t need fertilizer since they’ll be dormant over the winter. In the spring, fertilize any freshly pruned plants to feed them through the spring and summer. 

Do flowers grow back after being cut?

Cut and come again varieties will come back after being cut. Cutting these flowers triggers the plant to put out a new flush of growth and blooms. Pruned perennials and shrubs will also grow back as long as the plant’s crown is left in place and undamaged.  

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