Should You Deadhead Cut Flowers, Too?

row of deadheaded yellow calendulas on table

Deadheading flowers means removing the old bloom from the plant as they begin to fade. But in a cut flower garden, is this chore even on the list when you’re harvesting stems for bouquets and arrangements? Can it make a difference in your cut flower garden?

Cut flowers benefit from being deadheaded, even with regular harvesting from the plant. Any flowers that were missed during harvest or simply left behind to enjoy in the garden should be cut when the bloom starts to fade to keep production high.

What cut flowers do you have to deadhead?

Even though you’ll technically be deadheading the flower plants each time you harvest a stem for the vase, intentional deadheading is still a part of growing cut flowers. As time passes from harvest to harvest, you’re sure to spot an old bloom that you missed from the previous picking that needs to be removed.

Even if you don’t intend to harvest stems regularly for bouquets or arrangements, if you have any of the annual flowers on this list then you’ll want to add deadheading into your garden maintenance routine.

  • Zinnia
  • Cosmos
  • Marigold
  • Calendula
  • Snapdragon
  • Salvia
  • Gomphrena
  • Bachelor buttons
  • Daisy
  • Rudbeckia
  • Branching sunflowers

These flowers are what are known as cut and come again flowers. The removal of an old flower will prompt the growth of a new flower to replace it, all in the pursuit of producing seeds, but more on that in a moment.

To deadhead a flower, 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 flower bud.

two yellow calendula flowers
The flower on the left is just about ready to deadhead to make room for the new bloom on the right.

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

Otherwise, your flowers will start to slow down production and your flower supply will slowly fade out.

If you’ve never heard of cut and come again flowers, learn about these repeat bloomers in this post, Cut And Come Again Flowers: What Are They And Which Should You Grow?.

What happens if you don’t deadhead?

If you don’t deadhead your flowers, you can expect to see a slow decrease in production until the plants eventually stop blooming altogether. This is the natural life cycle of an annual flower, to grow from seed to seed in one season.

Basically, an annual flower’s purpose is to grow large and mature enough to produce flowers that will then turn into seedheads. Once the flower has completed this mission, it doesn’t need to keep producing flowers, aka future seeds. The plant’s job is done.

With its mission complete, the plant will slowly stop producing flowers and will eventually die. It’s not an overnight process, so you will still get flowers, but not with the same speed and volume as before the flowers went to seed.

calendula flower gone to seed
This calendula flower was overlooked during harvest and went fully to seed.

On the other hand, if you remove the flowers once they pass their peak, the plant will respond with new growth in a second attempt to produce seeds. Remove that flower as well and you’ll soon see the third attempt, and so on through the summer. By deadheading your flowering plants you are supercharging the volume of blooms you’ll get from the same plant.

Flowers aren’t immortal, though, and even with regular deadheading they will eventually burn out and die. Once that happens, you need to replant in order to get more of those blooms.

You will probably have enough time left in your growing season to plant a second round of flowers, but if you aren’t sure and want to learn more, check out this post, Too Late To Plant A Flower Garden? A Guide To Summer Planting.

One benefit to not deadheading certain flowers is that they may self sow throughout your garden. These flowers will produce their seedhead, then drop the seeds right in your garden. The seeds will germinate when the conditions are right, sometimes in that same season and sometimes in the spring.

Not all cut flowers are reliable self-seeders, so if you specifically want to avoid deadheading certain flowers to get them to drop seed, stick to flowers such as cosmos, foxglove, and hollyhocks.

What plants should not be deadheaded?

It’s not all chopping flowers’ heads off around here. There are a group of annual cut flowers that don’t respond to deadheading or may even stop growing altogether if deadheaded.

Flowers that produce a single stem and flower should not be deadheaded, such as single-stem sunflowers and flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils. If you deadhead these flowers at the first sign of fading, all you’ll do is cheat yourself of the last few days of this flower’s bloom.

The plant won’t send out a replacement stem or bud, so enjoy the bloom for as long as possible in the garden if you aren’t cutting it for the bouquet. Once the flower is fully spent, go ahead and cut it down.

In the case of tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs, don’t cut the whole plant. Leave the leaves behind to produce food for the build to store for next year’s blooms. Only remove the foliage once it’s fully wilted and brown.

Some annual flowers don’t need to be deadheaded because they drop their flowers on their own and continue blooming. These are called self-cleaning flowers and include types such as alyssum, lobelia, impatiens, and some petunias. These types of flowers are not typically used for cut flowers due to their short stems.

But, if you want to have some color in the garden that you don’t have to maintain with deadheading, then these can be some great contenders for supplemental color.

For other ways to keep your garden on top of its game, read this post: 6 Summer Chores To Keep Your Cut Flower Garden Performing.

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