The Grateful Deadheader

Deadheading if fun. Deadheading is relaxing. Almost every day, I take time to deadhead selected the morning or evening (sometimes both).

grateful dead roses

Deadheading, of course, is removing faded flowers. We do this to keep the fresh, new flowers coming. You could argue that this is mean to plants, who want only to produce a certain quantity of seed so that they can relax and take a nap. By removing flowers before the seeds ripen, we force plants to produce more flowers and extend the blooming period.

You could deadhead any plant, but it works better – and is more needed – with some than with others.

Mexican Sunflowers are an annual, but they can grow pretty tall.
Mexican Sunflowers are an annual, but they can grow pretty tall.

In our garden, my #1 deadheading priority is the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), whose beautiful orange flowers tend to be somewhat short-lived. Fortunately fresh blooms appear with great rapidity and in even greater numbers.

Mexican sunflower
Mexican sunflower

With Mexican Sunflower you need a scissors or pruner because the stems, though surprisingly delicate, do not break. Mexican Sunflowers eventually achieve the size of large shrubs with LOTS of flowers, so deadheading is like a game of hide and seek. You poke among the numerous stems, buds, and blooms for those seedheads that have lost their bright orange petals (actually ray flowers).

Just cannot get enough of these flowers. That's why I have to deadhead like crazy.
Just cannot get enough of these flowers. That’s why I have to deadhead like crazy.

It’s very satisfying when you find one that is cleverly hidden. I only wish I could pay someone to follow me around and ring a bell every time I deftly wield my little pruner.

Cosmos 'Carmine Sonata'
Cosmos ‘Carmine Sonata’

Another flower for daily deadheading is ‘Sonata Carmine’ Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). As with Mexican Sunflower, the more faded flowers you pick, the more new flower buds rush to take their place.

No pruner is needed however. Just grab hold of the fading flower and give it a pull. They give a gratifying little “pop” when you do so. Don’t grab the stems, however, as you are likely to pull up a whole chunk of the plant.

marigold Giverny
Marigolds at Giverny. I swear I didn’t do any unauthorized deadheading, though I was tempted. 

Then there are Marigolds (Tagetes patula), of course. These can also be deadheaded by hand, the fading flowers making a sound like snap beans when you break them off their stems.


I used to deadhead the flowers on my roses, especially ‘Cassie’. However, this year I decided to let it go. The result is that all the rose hips are quickly gobbled up by birds. After a brief summer vacation, ‘Cassie’ is again producing flowers.

Deadheading is surely one of the most relaxing things you can do after a stressful day. A simple but satisfying task that pays enormous dividends for your garden. Plus those little pops and snaps which to me are so soothing. If only I could find someone to ring a bell when I deadhead the Tithonia.

Do you enjoy deadheading your flowers?

71 Comments on “The Grateful Deadheader

  1. I don’t share your joy in dead-heading but it is essential; in my cuttings garden I try (but don’t succeed) to pick all the blooms for vases a form of early dead-heading!?

    • It would definitely have the same effect as deadheading, the plant only cares that the flower was removed before the seeds ripened.

  2. I’m a stickler for deadheading. The only time I don’t like it is in wide borders where I find myself treating on the plants in front (but squashing is a form of dead-heading, right?)

  3. I’m impressed! I have a hard enough time keeping up with weeding, needless to say I’m not very good about deadheading. Plus I’m a bit of a lazy gardener in the summer. I just get the necessary chores done. It is too hot and humid here. I do deadhead my marigolds in the kitchen garden but otherwise I let my blooms go to seed for the birds. I’m going to keep an eye out to see if the birds are eating my rose hips. I’ve not actually seen them eat them before but they do like hanging out in the rose bushes, especially the mockingbirds, so maybe that is what they are doing.

    • I think your summers are much more oppressive than ours. I also let lots of plants go to seed for the birds – the Cup Plant, Joe Pye Weeds, Anise Hyssop, Monardas, Yellow Coneflower, Asters, etc.

  4. Another beautiful posting. You know, I don’t deadhead much of my garden – the little birds come and light on the spent blooms and eat the seeds. Mr and Mrs Little Yellow Finch were feasting on the purple cone flowers last evening. See you at the garden center!

  5. Ha…I can imagine the fairies walking along with you ringing bells with every snap. I don’t deadhead much. Mainly the marigolds and dahlias. The rest I leave for the birds to deal with.

  6. Before I retired I used to come home after a hard day, go out with my little nippers and say aloud as I deadheaded, “Off with YOUR head. Off with Your Head. Off with YOUR head.” So satisfying.

  7. Jason, this was a fun read and as always, well illustrated. Good luck with the bell thing. I’m with you in spirit but honestly deadheading is way down on my list of relaxing things to do.

    • We can’t all have the same favorite tasks in the garden.. For the bell, I was wondering if I could program my phone. Could there be an app for that?

  8. I deadhead but not as vigorously as I probably should. Really enjoyed your initial artwork. All these years of loving the Dead and deadheading and I never made that amusing connection. Very clever

  9. I do enjoy deadheading. Like you, I find it relaxing. However, with some of the perennials I don’t deadhead because I find the pods interesting. With annuals, I always do.

  10. Oh yes, deadheading might seem a mindless chore, but I kind of enjoy it too! It’s my favourite kind of ‘tidying up’, knowing I am promoting new flowers – and it is not mean to the plants 🙂

  11. Great post. Loved your tips and techniques. I’m conflicted when it comes to this chore: Though I love to see more flowers on the annuals and those perennials that also greatly benefit; I cringe at the tons of spent sticky remains from all the rhododendron blooms; and I never get them all. My rhodies often have last year’s brown remains further down the branch! Pruning helps, but deadheading rhodies is such a chore — and after blooming they cry out for removal. I can appreciate the zen-like-relaxing component of deadheading, but it sometimes feels like a Sisyphean task.

  12. Deadheading and weeding both fall into that Zen category for me as a way to get close to the garden and notice things I might otherwise miss.

  13. I am more of the group that does not like the deadheading job. I usually will cut the plants back for rebloom a few times during the season. I do deadhead the daylilies though, because they look hideous with spent blooms. My Mexican Sunflowers get a whacking so as not to take up my time. I will snap the cosmos like you because they are pretty prolific when deadheaded.

  14. Goodness, your funny grateful Deadheading post has garnered a lot of comment. I fall into the lazy category because, like an earlier response, hot and humid summer days are not conducive to these garden chores and I don’t think of deadheading as relaxing! You have made me feel guilty enough to run around taking the tops off the spent marigolds and when another flush of blooms appear, I will thank Jason!

  15. I too love deadheading, but sadly have had little time to do anything in the garden this year! Next time you deadhead, imagine me ringing the bell!!! I was laughing at that!
    I see you have ripe tomatoes too….I haven’t had one ripen yet!xxx

  16. Deadheading is part of my ritual tour of the garden each morning. Doing it then slows me down and helps me to really look at each part of the garden. It also makes the garden look freshened up for a new day. I’m less good about deadheading plants that require tools rather than a quick pull or pinch. Right now, my tradescantia plants are looking just dreadful and would benefit greatly from deadheading and cutting back.

  17. I’m not a regular deadheader but every now and then I enjoy a good spree and the garden always looks better for it. I can’t say I enjoy it though. It’s more of a compulsion than something I like doing.

  18. What a lovely approach, I wish I enjoyed it like you. For me it is rather a chore. I will try and find the pleasure in it that you talk about. Maybe if someone followed me with a bell? No, I think I would prefer a trumpet.

  19. Jason, I love your Cosmos ‘Carmine Sonata’, very pretty!
    I do deadheading as well especially on my rose bushes. When their flowers fade I say them: I need to deadhead these ones and you’ll grow new ones. My roses are agreed.

  20. It’s a real labour of love Jason. I think it is much more than cutting out a few flowers, it can be judicious light pruning, perhaps to display another plant better or to let light through to a smaller neighbour. Later in the season a little cutting back might be appropriate. I love transforming a tired planting to give it a few more weeks of beauty.

    • Several perennials benefit from cutting back hard after they bloom – Amsonia and Baptisia, for example. I think of this as a more vigorous activity than deadheading flowers, however.

  21. I agree, deadheading is relaxing and gives such a nice sense of accomplishment because afterward the plant looks so nice and neat.

    I especially like deadheading rhodies… well, at least until they get too large, which creates a problem: Which looks worse, an entirely un-deadheaded rhody or one that’s nice and neat for the lower 6 feet but shaggy above??

  22. Great post! I love tithonia:-) It is the best for monarchs in my garden + bees this time of year. I tried some dwarf ones this year but they were not so dwarf. I bit smaller but still taller than me, but hmmm..I am sort-lol

  23. shoot-writing in that shorter box makes me miss letters..” a bit smaller but still taller than me, but hmmm…I am short!

  24. Pingback: Looking Back | Words and Herbs

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