Perennials in the front garden, notably Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

Pull Up, Cut Down, Snip Off: Deadheading

Some plants absolutely must be deadheaded, or there will be way too many of them. What is deadheading? Removal of spent flowers before seeds ripen.

I’m already well into deadheading mode. It starts with hellebores and continues through the summer and into fall. I spent a couple of hours this week pulling up spent bluebell stalks by the armload.

Here is a list, in chronological order, of the plants in my garden for which this treatment is not optional:

  • Hellebores: April and May
  • Bluebells: May
  • Forget-me-nots: May and June
  • *Meconopsis cambrica (Welsh poppy): May until fall
  • Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii: May and June
  • Lychnis coronaria (Rose campion): June until fall
  • Linaria purpurea (Toadflax): June until fall
  • Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s ears): July until fall
  • Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved bellflower): July until fall, intermittently
  • Echinops ritro (Globe thistle): August
  • Verbascum olympicum (Olympic mullein): August and September

It’s helpful to know the plants’ seeding habits. Euphorbias, for example, pop their seed pods on hot days, shooting seeds for several feet. That’s why my next door neighbour has a couple of euphorbias, and why I started with one plant but now have half a dozen. Now I know the importance of cutting down the flowering stalks long before the pods pop. Toadflax and rose campion produce billions of tiny seeds, so if I get behind on the deadheading, or miss a few plants, it’s impossible to cut down stalks that carry ripe seeds without peppering the immediate vicinity.

Other plants need deadheading too, not so much to prevent seeding, but to spare them from expending energy on futile seed production. These include tulips, daffodils, irises, delphiniums, lilies, and roses. Civilized plants, in other words. Unlike their tough and seedy companions, deadheading protects them, rather than the gardener’s temper.

And much as I complain about the tough, seedy plants, I rely on them to do well in this garden in which fussier plants struggle. Some of them are short-lived, so it’s just as well that volunteers pop up to replace the ones that fizzle out.

This isn’t my first post about deadheading. I wrote one early in my blogging career, so early that it has languished unread and unliked. Anyone who wants to give the poor thing some attention may find it HERE.

Bluebells

*Update, June 16, 2022: A gardener who lives in Wales pointed out that Meconopsis cambrica is actually the Welsh poppy, not the Cambridge poppy. Duly corrected!

30 comments

  1. Deadheading is like weeding–the garden is better if the gardener makes the effort. My husband likes to deadhead to make the plants look better. I have heard it is also a way to get tired plants to continue blooming (I’m thinking plants that can bloom all summer but sort of fade out after an initial vigorous period of blooming–like vinca.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m afraid I’m a lazy gardener and only do those maintenance kind of jobs when I absolutely have to…read rarely. That’s why I have some parsley sprouting very happily from my front steps. At least I don’t have to go far to pick some. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Parsley is a bonus! I’ve learned from experience over 30 years which plants need to be “managed” and which can be allowed to do their thing. And gardeners do things differently; someone I know weeds out plants I’m delighted to see establishing themselves at my place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lol – High Five! We love parsley, the more the better as we also love fresh, home-made Tabouli. 😀
        Warrandyte has poor soils are fairly harsh summers so I’ve had to accept that some plants – like azaleas – simply don’t thrive. In fact, they curl up their toes and wither. Instead, I allow plants to acclimatise and the ones that make it get pretty much free reign in the garden. Sadly, some very pesky weeds also do well, like cape weed. Nasty stuff that even the alpacas won’t eat. :/

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I just looked your bindweed up. It’s quite pretty but I imagine it chokes out everything else?
            I attack the capeweed in spring when the ground is still soft. The big clumps have relatively shallow roots that can be pulled out with my sooper dooper weeding tool. Trouble is there’s so much of the stuff. Just as well I have no ambitions for a proper lawn. :/

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It’s low-growing so hides in the lawn until said lawn turns brown in summer (because I don’t water those areas). By then the bindweed is in bloom, with lots of inch-wide, bright white flowers. They’re actually not ugly (and there’s even a pink form), but they just make the already sad-looking grass look weedy.
              Hedge bindweed (C. sepium) is a much larger plant that can overwhelm perennials and small shrubs. Fortunately I don’t have that one in my garden.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Diana. I’m almost done with the bluebells. On to forget-me-nots, but I’ll leave a few to produce seeds, because I love their haze of blue among other plants.

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  3. Hi Audrey, I live on the coast of South Wales ,UK, and here Purple Toadflax grows very well in the sandy soil and areas that are a bit rough and gravelly, even growing in the gaps in dry stone walls. It loves the sun which is just as well because we have a coastal micro climate here which is much sunnier and dryer than even just a few miles inland. As it’s such a favourite with the bees I’ve decided to plant some in my garden, obviously I’ll have to keep it in check, but it’s such a beauty I wont mind the work of deadheading. On another point, I hope you don’t mind if I correct you regarding Meconopsis Cambrica, it’s not the Cambridge poppy, it’s The Welsh Poppy ( Cambria being the Latin name for Wales). This beautiful flower, alongside the Daffodil is our national flower, and grows wild in the hills and woods of Wales. Thank you, Diolch yn fawr.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Richard,
      Thanks for straightening me out about Meconopsis cambrica. (Mustn’t rely on quick internet checks!) It is definitely a beautiful plant, but I make sure to keep up with the deadheading to keep it from taking over the garden.
      My place has sandy soil and our climate is summer-dry, so Purple Toadflax does well here. I especially like that it doesn’t need staking, even when it grows to a metre in height. Deadheading prolongs the blooming season; otherwise it quickly goes to seed and looks bad. Plants grown in full sun and cut back as needed sometimes develop a reddish colour in late summer. And yes–bees love it. Altogether an admirable plant!
      Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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