What Is Deadheading? Your Ultimate Guide to Deadheading Plants

What Is Deadheading? Your Ultimate Guide to Deadheading Plants

Deadheading is the process of removing the spent blooms from your plants. This can be done by simply pinching the stem between your thumb and index finger if the stem is soft and thin. To deadhead a spent bloom from a woody stemmed plant like a rose bush, you will need to use a tool. A good pruner with a sharp blade will work for most deadheading.

Why Deadheading Plants Is Important 

Deadheading is done for many reasons. The first reason is appearance. A dead flower head that is turning brown will always detract from the fresh flower buds that are just opening as well as the freshly blooming flowers. Your plants will look their very best if deadheaded regularly.

A second reason to deadhead is to promote more blooms. The purpose of all plants is to reproduce. This is usually accomplished by producing seeds. In the case of the vegetable garden, we want the plant to produce seeds as they are carried in the fruit of the plant that we consume. There are very few times that the gardener would purposely prevent seed production in the vegetable garden. However, in the flower garden, it is a different story. The purpose of the flower garden is to provide beauty, usually from the flowers. The more flowers, the better. By deadheading, the plant has failed in its purpose of reproduction so it will form new flowers to fulfill its goal. This gives the gardener a second flush of flowers for some plants and, for others, it is a continual process of setting more flowers.

There are flowering plants that are a “one and done” plant. Usually these are perennials. They will send up the flower stalk and flower once. Deadheading will not cause this plant to rebloom. However, what deadheading will achieve is it makes the remaining plant look neat and tidy, but more importantly, it allows the plant to put all its energy for the rest of the growing season into strengthening and expanding the parent plant. The following year, instead of having one or two flowers, it may have four or five. This is the third reason for deadheading: to improve the size and vigor of the parent plant.

peach roses on a shrub

How to Deadhead Plants

When deadheading your flowers, simply cut the stem off at the leaf juncture below the spent bloom. Don’t leave long bare stems with no leaves. They will not grow more leaves or flowers, and new growth will come from the juncture of the leaf and the stem or from the base of the plant. 

Most trees and shrubs don’t require deadheading. They are pruned for shape but not deadheaded. There are a few exceptions. A lilac bush has beautiful flower heads each spring. These will develop seeds if left on the plant. They can be deadheaded and the bush will develop more blooms the following year. Note: Any pruning or deadheading should be done immediately after blooming as the lilac flower buds form on the new growth. If you wait to prune and deadhead until later, you will probably be removing next year’s blooms.

Another shrub you may want to deadhead is the hydrangea. Some gardeners prefer to leave the blooms in place even when they start to dry out and many growers use the hydrangea flower heads in dried flower arrangements, on wreaths and even on their Christmas trees. You can deadhead the spent flowers of the hydrangea at any time as long as you only take the flowerhead. Remember that some hydrangeas bloom from last year’s branches while others bloom from new growth. It is important to know which type of hydrangea you have if you want to cut more than the flowerhead.

Deadheading Roses

The one bush that should be deadheaded regularly is the rose. Removing the spent blooms will maintain the beauty of your rose bushes and it will encourage more blooms. The types of roses you grow in your garden do make a difference on how to deadhead. You will need good sharp pruners and good garden gloves.

Hybrid Tea Roses

Hybrid tea roses are the type of rose that are perfect for bouquets. One of the features of this rose is the long stem that gives the rose its spectacular look in the vase. Another thing to keep in mind is the stem needs to support the weight of the next flower. A spindly stem will cause the rose stem to bend over, and the flower to face downward instead of up. Generally, you should deadhead your tea rose just above a 5-leaf juncture on the stem. There may be a 3-leaf juncture, but those are usually on a weaker, thinner part of the stem. You can always go lower on the stem.

deadhead hybrid tea roses

Remember the new growth will come from the angle between the leaf and the stem. Your new stem will grow in that direction. You want the stem to grow out from the center of the bush—not inward—so deadhead with that also in mind. Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle about ¼ inch above the leaf juncture. Some rosarians recommend the additional step of covering the cut end with Elmer’s white glue. Do not use school glue as that will wash off with the first rain. The glue will seal the surface and prevent cane boring insects from the entry point in the pith of the stem.

Shop All Hybrid Tea Roses for Sale

Floribunda and Spray Roses

These roses bloom in clusters of several flowers on the stem. The individual flowers may bloom at different times. When deadheading these roses, start by removing the individual flowers that are finished blooming, leaving the remaining flowers on the stem. When all the remaining flowers of the cluster have completed blooming, cut the entire cluster off using the same guidelines as for the tea rose.

Shop All Floribunda Roses deadhead shrub roses

Shrub Roses

Shrub roses, including the popular Knock Out roses, may never need to be deadheaded. These roses are usually self-cleaning, meaning they drop their petals without needing to be manually deadheaded. Of course, you can deadhead to improve the look of your rose.

Shop All Shrub Roses

Rugosa Roses

There is one time you may want the rose to remain untrimmed after flowering. If you want to save the rose hips, you would not trim the flowers away. Most roses do not have the type of rose hip that you would want to save. The exception is the Rugosa Rose, which people grow primarily for the rose hips.

Learn About The Different Types of Roses

Deadheading Other Plants in the Garden

You may be looking through your garden and not know which to deadhead and how to deadhead them. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common garden flowers and how to deadhead them.


Cosmos is a reliable annual that will bloom the entire season from spring to fall. The flower heads start as tight button-shaped buds that can be mistaken for a spent bloom. When the flower opens, it is held up on a longer stem that makes the cosmos a great cut flower. When it is time to deadhead, move down to the first set of leaves on the stem and cut right above the first set of leaves.


Foxglove flowers grow on long flower spikes with bell-shaped tubular flowers covering the spike. When the spikes finish blooming, you can cut the flower spike off or you can wait until the seeds are developed and the dried flower head releases the seeds for volunteer plants.

how to deadhead salvia


Salvia grows in a variety of colors—from purple to red to white. The purple varieties seem to attract the pollinators and will attract hummingbirds continuously all summer. Salvia flowers grow on spikes that stand above the foliage. When the flower spike starts to turn brown, cut it just above the leaves. It will send up even more flowers to replace the one you cut.

Tulips and Other Spring Bulbs

These flowers are a one-time show in the spring. Once they finish blooming, the flower will try to make seeds. You want all the energy to go into keeping the bulb healthy and strong so it will come back next spring with an even more spectacular show. In the home garden, most of us leave our bulbs in place once planted. You will need to deadhead. This is very easy. Simply cut the flower stem off as close to the bottom as possible without removing any of the leaves. Allow the leaves to remain until they turn brown and dry. Then, they can be removed for appearance’s sake or leave the plant remains in place and it will be covered by the summer blooming plants.

Browse Our Flower Bulb Collection cone flowers in bloom


Coneflowers are very popular in the perennial bed because they are such dependable and easy-care plants. Over the years, coneflowers have become available in many colors, making them even more desirable. Coneflowers grow on a long stem, which holds the flower head well above the foliage. They will keep on producing flowers all season if deadheaded. Coneflowers have a large center where the seeds will be produced if allowed. Allow the plant to form seed heads in the late summer and early fall and wait till spring to cut the plant back. You will be rewarded with visits by the birds all winter to feed on the seeds.


Marigolds are an old-time favorite for the flower garden and also as a companion plant in the vegetable garden. They are prolific bloomers which are increased by deadheading. This is a plant that can be easily deadheaded by just pinching the flower off with your finger and thumb. Remember: When deadheading, always take the entire flower head off—not just the petals.


Right along with marigolds, zinnias are another old-time favorite. You can grow these plants by sowing the seed directly into the soil or start the seeds about a month before you want to place them in the garden. Zinnias’ popularity is assured because of the immense color options and the different sizes they come in—from very tall to tiny miniatures. Deadhead your zinnias as the flower heads die and you will be rewarded with a bushy, flower-laden plant that will bloom from late spring till well into fall.

how to deadhead zinnias


Coleus is a shade-loving plant that is grown primarily for its colorful foliage. It will send up a flower spike and you can leave the spike until it starts to dry up and then deadhead. However, many gardeners feel the flowers detract from the beauty of the leaves and will deadhead them immediately. This is a personal choice, and the plant will not be harmed either way.


Daylilies will send up long stems with flowers held above the foliage. When the daylily finishes blooming, the stem will dry up and will detract from the beauty of the foliage. To deadhead a daylily, slide your hand down the flower stem to near the base of the plant. Cut the stem with your pruner and let the foliage cover the remaining stem.

Plants You Shouldn’t Deadhead

There are some plants that you should not deadhead. By leaving the flower head, you provide winter interest from plants like the sedum. The dried flower head is a rusty red color and will stand the severe weather of the winter. Trim the flower heads in spring when new growth starts to show. An annual that has seed pods that are just as attractive (some say even more attractive) as the flower is a plant like the Purple Hyacinth Vine. This vine has beautiful lavender flowers. If left on the plant, it develops a seed pod similar to pea pods except that the pods are a shiny purple and so showy in the flower garden.

pink flowers blooming

It’s Time to Deadhead

Don’t think of deadheading as a chore. Every day when you walk through your garden carry a pruner with you. Deadhead whenever you see the need. And while you are enjoying your plants, check them for any signs of trouble. If you are familiar with your plants, you will notice changes early. Sometimes it is a little nibbling by insects or even rabbits, while other days you see new shoots or the first flowers forming. Enjoy your time in the garden as a restful retreat from the stress of life. And since you have a clipper in your back pocket, cut a few flowers for the house.

Image Credits
Ksenia Lada/Shutterstock.com
Ben Petcharapiracht/Shutterstock.com