Deadheading a pansy
Deadheading is a light physical activity that can improve plant appearance and health. We look at why and how to do it.

Helpful information

Timing: Varies by plant, most frequently done from late spring to early autumn

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Large garden, small garden, balcony

  • During some parts of the year, particularly late spring into summer, this can be a daily task to get you into nature
  • Enjoy seeing how quickly you can make a difference to the appearance of your plants
  • Some plants can be deadheaded using your fingers, allowing you to enjoy the sensory appeal of the activity
Petunias pixabay deadheading
Petunias in bloom with a few faded flowers in the shadows ready to deadhead

Deadheading is a simple but important gardening activity. For some people, the removal of spent flowers can be a calming regular activity.

There are a few different reasons for deadheading plants:

  • Appearance. Many plants look better with dead flowers removed
  • Encouraging new growth. With some plants, deadheading can stop the plant putting energy into seed production and encourage the production of even more flowers. This can help keep the plant flowering for longer
  • Preventing disease. Removing finished flowers may help reduce the risk of pest infestation or of diseases

There are also some occasions and some plants where you may decide not to deadhead them. See our how to advice below.

Deadheading vs pruning

Deadheading and pruning are similar gardening activities, as they both involve removing part of a plant to support it’s health and growth.

With deadheading, the focus is on removing spent flowers to encourage further flowering and avoid going to seed.

Pruning typically involves removing branches, stems and foliage to shape the plant and promote healthy growth. You can prune non-flowering plants as well as flowering ones.

Bright pink dahlias in flower

Deadheading can be a delightfully simple activity. In some cases, you can just pinch off a flower using your thumb and fingertips. You could use deadhead snips or light secateurs if preferred, or for plants with thicker stems.

When and how to deadhead can vary a little from plant to plant. We have included a few examples here. You can always look up your specific plant online if you want to make certain.

Plants to continually deadhead

There are many plants you can continually deadhead. Simply remove any dead or faded flower heads as soon as you spot them:

  • Dahlias
  • Geraniums
  • Petunias
  • Geum
  • Dianthus
  • Lilies

When deciding how much to pinch off or remove, look for where healthy growth is. Take off the flower head and a little of the stem if needed so you are left with healthy leaves or buds.

Make it easier

If you have any sight loss, carefully feel towards the end of the plant to find the spent flower head before cutting.

Plants with different deadheading technique

With some plants, a very slightly different technique is best, mainly due to how they produce flowers:

  • For lupins, remove complete flower spikes once most of the flowers on it have faded
  • For lavender, give it a light all over haircut once most of the flowers have faded in colour
  • For daffodils, remove the flower head once it has finished blooming. Let the rest (leaves and stem) die back naturally
Dry sunflower seed deadhead
A dry sunflower head that has gone to seed

Plants to selectively deadhead or leave

There are some occasions where you may decide not to deadhead your plants. These are some examples.

  • Roses

It’s a good idea to deadhead roses early in the season. By late autumn, if you have a rose variety that will grow hips, you may decide to stop deadheading. This will allow the hips to grow.

  • Hydrangeas

With some types of hydrangea (mophead in particular), it’s best to leave faded flower heads on over winter. These protect the plant’s growth and can look quite attractive through winter.

Wait until the following spring to deadhead the old flowers.

  • Sunflowers

Birds love sunflowers seeds. Leave the flower heads on to create a feast for feathered friends.

You could also save some of the seeds to grow more plants next year.

  • Sedum

Leave the flower heads on over winter. They add some faded beauty to the garden.

Top tip

There is no need to worry about cutting the wrong part of the plant. If you accidentally snip anything you didn't mean to, it will still encourage new growth in the plant.

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