Ideas & Inspiration
How to Deadhead Flowers
Flowering shrubs, hedges and perennials explode with spring color. To keep the flowers coming year after year, give your plants some TLC and a “haircut.”
Most flowering shrubs and hedges need a yearly pruning at one time or another. The question is when to do it. Pruning at the wrong time can make you miss next year’s flowers. If you’re not sure when to prune, ask your Garden Center associate.
The rule of thumb for pruning flowering shrubs is: Prune spring flowering shrubs, like azaleas and forsythia, after they bloom. Prune summer or fall flowering shrubs, like roses and crepe myrtles, in late winter or early spring.
Last year’s perennial plants will definitely need a spring haircut to encourage healthy new growth.
First, take off spent flower blooms, known as deadheading, to encourage a fresh spring start.
- Check your flowers for any spent blooms, meaning dead flowers.
- Pinch off spent blooms, or cut off with scissors or pruning shears. For tall-stemmed perennials, snip off flowers at the base of the plant’s stem.
- Avoid taking off leaves when deadheading since they provide nutrients for blooms.
- Wait until the flowers are finished before you prune.
- Cut out any dead, diseased and broken wood. You can remove a few stray shoots any time of year.
- Prune away branches that grow inward to let the shrub get more sun and air.
- If your shrub has gotten too big, cut it back by about a third. If your shrub has become a woody, tangled mess, cut it to four to six inches above the ground. New growth will be more compact, but save this heavy pruning for every 3 to 5 years.
- A special note about hydrangeas: Find out what kind of hydrangeas you have before you prune. Prune oakleaf hydrangeas and the “mopheads” with big blue or pink blooms immediately after flowering. Other types need to be pruned in late winter or very early spring. If you’re not sure what kind you have, your Garden Center associate can help.
- For spring flowering hedges, wait until the flowers are finished before you prune.
- Use hedge trimmers to make your hedge wider at the base than the top, so rain and sun can reach the lower growth. Don’t prune hedges straight up and down, or they’ll look like walls.
- Cut out dead, diseased and broken wood. You can remove a few stray shoots any time of year.
- You may need to trim your hedges more than once a year, if you live in a warm climate. Read about the kind of hedge you have to see if it’s safe to prune, or ask your Garden Center associate. Pruning at the wrong time might remove next year’s flowers.
- Pull out any loose, dead stems.
- Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the dormant stems close to the base of the plant. Avoid cutting new shoots.
- Tidy up around your perennials by picking up or raking any plant debris.
- Add two to three inches more mulch, if needed.
- Most of all, don’t stress. A few pruning mistakes will grow back!