How to deadhead petunias?

Pinching annuals to promote dense growth

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A few weeks ago, I posted about deadheading annuals, a simple, but essential task to encourage container plants, like petunias, to bloom heavily and for the longest possible time. As I was deadheading last week, I noticed that some of my petunias are looking a little leggy. Maybe even (gasp!) scraggly? Deadheading spent blooms won’t fix that, so it was time to get pinchy. Pinching annuals by removing their overgrown and leggy stems will spur fresh growth, thicken up plants, and encourage a new flush of blossoms.

These petunias were getting a bit leggy and in desperate need of pinching back.

Pinching annuals: which plants respond to pinching?

Not all annuals should be sheared, but those that trail – like petunias, million bells, and lobelia – appreciate a mid-summer haircut. The easiest way to shear is to prune the entire plant back by about one-third, but with this method, you’ll sacrifice a few weeks of flowers. However, once the plant has had a chance to re-grow, it will quickly be smothered in new blooms.

Related Post: Summer Loving – Tips to keep your gardens in top shape

The ‘how-to’s’ of pinching annuals:

I understand if you don’t want to sacrifice your beloved flowers – even for a few weeks (I live in a very short season). However, you can still take advantage of this type of pruning by selectively removing one-third of the leggy stems, pinching or pruning them back to a higher set of leaves or nodes. Pick the stems in front of the plant, leaving the back ones alone. Essentially, you’re layering the plant. The back, unpruned stems will continue to flower, while the front, pruned ones will thicken up and reward you with new, dense growth and a heavy flush of blooms.

One last tip: After pinching or shearing, give your annuals a dose of fertilizer to help them re-grow and re-bloom as quickly as possible.

Oh so scraggly! Time to pinch back these stems to thicken up the plant and encourage more blooms.

Related Post: A shady dynamic duo!

I removed one branch, and then pinched off the top of the other.

Just a week after pinching, the same stem was pushing out fresh growth.

How do you keep your containers in top shape all summer long?

Carefully cared for your Petunia plants will repay you with months and months of flower production – but only if you stop them from producing seed. The way to achieve this little gardening miracle is to deadhead regularly, which will keep the plant compact, and flowering again and again.

Clipping the dead heads is a simple gardening job, but it is one of those jobs that you cannot neglect or put off for too long or you will miss the opportunity, the petals will brown and drop and the plant will start investing energy in the remaining seed pot.

Once the petals start to brown and the vitality has left the flower you need to clip the stem just above the next set of leaves down.

This is such a simple task that if you have children they can help in the garden with this.

What do you use?

Well, I often use a thumbnail – it tends to be a job that I return to as I wander around the garden – but you may be more organized than I am, in which case small pruning clippers, shears, they are so soft-stemmed that even children’s safety scissors will cut through with no effort and no damage to the remaining plant.

You won’t want to be wearing gloves for this job – there shouldn’t be anything prickly nearby, and you risk inflicting damage on the remaining stems. You need to treat them quite gently, Petunias are not that robust.

It is important when you take off the head to follow the stem down and cut above the next set of leaves because this will generate additional side growth on the plant and help it to retain a lovely bushy compact growth. If you don’t take that additional stem, and just take the flower, then you will end up with a straggly, leggy plant by the end of the season.

You can take out several dead blooms at once – and indeed won’t cause any issue if a live one is in there – but make sure that you take the branch to just above a set of leaves in all cases.

If your plant is getting too leggy then you can arrest that growth by pinching out the growing tips of the plant and encourage spread rather than height. Wait until the plant has reached the height you want to maintain before doing it, or you will end up with stunted growth. This will help them spread and ensure that you get good coverage – covered ground doesn’t grow weed!

Once you know how to deadhead Petunias don’t forget to get them well in hand before going away if you are taking a holiday. You can be fairly ruthless in deadheading Petunias, and they will carry on providing more flowers regardless. If you are going on a trip prune them hard following our guide on how to deadhead Petunias and you will come back to a colorful display.

Author: Kyle Baxter

Kyle Baxter is married with one young son. A very short career in investigative journalism, and a particularly unfortunate experience over the purchase of a major household appliance that took many months to resolve when he could ill-afford the costs led Kyle to his current position as a consumer champion. When not seeking out guidance on the best-on-the-market Kyle enjoys watching baseball and tries to get away from the house long enough to do some off-road cycling.

A lot of my time spent in maintaining my summer garden is spent in deadheading. So, finding plants that don’t need deadheading to add to my garden beds is something that I am always in search of.

We all love to garden but some chores are not our favorites, for sure. Deadheading flowers is at the top of my “not so popular” list. How about you?

What is deadheading?

Basically, this gardening term refers to the time spent removing old flower blooms to allow the plant to keep blooming longer. Many re-blooming plants will just get more and more untidy and stop flowering if the spent flowers are not removed.

So, deadheading is a garden task that occupies a lot of time for most gardeners. Roses are one plant that needs a lot of deadheading to remove the old blooms so the plant will continue flowering.

Most annuals and many perennials will continue flowering all season long as long as you remember to get rid of of the faded flowers. Deadheading makes for a better looking plant and a longer flowering season.

As the flowers fade away, they begin to form seed heads. This means that the energy of the plant is being spent on the development of seeds, not more flowers. So to direct that energy to blooms, just deadhead!

Plants that don’t need deadheading

As a lazy gardener, the next obvious question is “are there plants that DON’T need deadheading? Yes, there are. Some of these plants are called “self cleaning” plants. They will continue to flower even if you don’t remove the old blooms.

A few are low maintenance that need to be tidied up occasionally, but give masses of color for the time spent. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy my gallery of plants that don’t need deadheading.


The seed heads remain on this plant right into fall. Since the seed heads are attractive in their own right, many gardeners allow them to remain on the plant right through the winter months and only prune the plant back in the early spring.

Joe Pye Weed

This popular perennial plant that attracts butterflies like made actually used to really be a weed. The cultivars are less invasive and very pretty. The mop head flowers appear in early fall and there is no need to deadhead them. Hardy in zones 4-8.

If you want lots of butterflies in your garden, plant Joe Pye Weed.


This pretty annual plant cleans itself by dropping the flower heads below. The plant will continue to flower all summer long with no extra work from you spent removing it’s pretty blooms.


Also known as Leopard plant, ligularia need lots of moisture, so be prepared to water it or having it growing as a pond plant. If you have the conditions it needs, it will reward you with stunning flowers that multiply quickly. Hardy in zones 5-8.

Ligularia is a perennial that is happiest when grown as a shade plant.


Baptisia Australis have lovely violet blue flowers. The have quite a long bloom time in early summer but if you leave the flowers on the plant, they will form into purple pods that rattle in the wind and have interest on their own.


Both the tall flower stalks and the graceful foliage of astilbe is attractive in the garden. The flower stalks sit well above the foliage and will continue sending shoots upwards for many weeks. The older flower stems dry into pretty plums that look nice in the garden, so there is no need to remove them.

New Guinea Impatiens

This pretty annual has a self cleaning habit, so there is no need to remove the old blooms to keep the color coming all summer long. This larger version of the impatiens family has both colorful leaves and larger flowers than the normal annual impatiens.


Almost all types of begonias keep themselves clean and re-blooming by dropping the old blooms. This goes for the common wax begonia, angel wing begonias, and tuberous begonias as well. This amazing angel wing begonia has been going strong for me for months, with no sign of slowing down, and no deadheading!


This pretty plant forms clumps of low growing mounds that are just covered in flowers. The plant is self cleaning, so you don’t need to deadhead the old flowers.


These colorful plants are butterfly magnets. You will need to water and fertilize to keep them blooming but deadheading is not required.

Million Bells

Calibrachoa has the common name million bells, which gives a hint to it’s lack of a need to be deadheaded. After all, a plant can’t have a million bells if the gardener has to be deadheading all the time can it? This pretty plant looks like mini petunias and attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds.


This self cleaning plant has dead foliage that dries up and disappears. It comes in many different colors.


This pretty perennial is also known as Russian Sage. The plant is hardy in zones 5-9 and has lovely soft gray leaves which contrast beautifully with the pastel or purple flowers. The flowers are long lasting and you can enjoy them for months without deadheading.


Like it’s larger cousin, the New Guinea impatins, the smaller regular varieties of impatiens clean themselves and don’t need you to do the work of removing the flowers.

Plants that require Light deadheading

Some plants flower well all summer long but can be even more spectacular if you do a bit of light deadheading. Black Eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers will bloom all season long but will look more tidy if the spent blooms are removed occasionally. Here are a few more:


Geranium flowers are super long lasting. They grow on long stalks that just keep blooming over a long period of time. Each big flower head has masses of smaller flowers on it. When the petals have completely finished opening it is very easy to just snip off the whole stem.

Wave Petunias

While not 100% deadheading free, wave petunias drop most of their flowers below and continue to bloom. Even though they do require a tiny bit of maintenance, their long lasting color is totally worth a bit of extra tending.


Even though peonies only bloom for a short period of time, the wait is so worth it! Their fragrance is welcomed in any neighborhood in late spring.

After the plant blooms, it sets seed pods. Unless they are very heavy and weigh the plant down, you don’t need to remove them. The flowers will still remain attractive. Light pruning will make the plant look even better, though. This perennial is hardy in zones 3-8.

This is not by any means the only list of plants that don’t need deadheading to stay pretty all summer long. To find others, look for words like these on the plant labels:

  • low maintenance
  • self cleaning
  • no deadheading required
  • undemanding
  • little care needed

For more lovely flowers be sure to check out my Flowers Board on Pinterest.

If you would like to be reminded of this list of plants that don’t need deadheading, be sure to pin this to one of your gardening Boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Admin Note: This post first appeared on the blog in July of 2017. I have updated it to include new plants as well as a video to enjoy.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Ask the Master Gardener: Most annuals don’t need deadheading, but several benefit from the practice

Dear Master Gardener: Which annuals need to be deadheaded and which ones don’t?

Answer: Deadheading (removing faded flowers) promotes continued blooming by preventing plants from setting seeds. Deadheading will stimulate new flowers and keep the plant tidy all season. To deadhead your plants, pinch off below the old flowers with your fingers or snip them off with a pruning shears. Annuals that benefit from deadheading include: Cosmos, Dahlias, Geranium (Pelargonium), Heliotrope, Marigold, Petunias, Snapdragon and Zinnia.

Most annuals are self-cleaning and do not need to be deadheaded. This means the old blooms fall off naturally. Some plants that will continue to bloom without deadheading include: Ageratum, Angelonia, Begonia, Bidens, Browallia, Calibrachoa, Canna, Cleome, Diascia, Diamond Frost Euphorbia, Impatiens, Lantana, Lobelia, Osteospermum, Scaevola, Supertunia petunias, Torenia, and Verbena.

Dear Master Gardener: I have a garden on the north side of my house with the typical ferns and hostas, but would like to add some color. Are there flowering plants that will perform well in shade?

Answer: Usually perennials have a fairly short bloom time, so you may want to choose those that also have attractive foliage. Most flowering shade plants are woodland plants that bloom in spring and early June. Adding some flowering annuals that are shade-tolerant, such as impatiens, wax begonia, browallia or torenia will give you continuous color all summer. The following flowering perennials do well in our area and are considered “deer-resistant”:

Old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) produces arching clusters of pink or white flowers in spring. The white variety, Alba, is not as vigorous as the pink. The plants usually go dormant after blooming, so if you decide to plant the common bleeding heart, you may want to plant some annuals around the clump to fill in the empty space. Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) is a native wildflower with a long bloom season. The plants sport ferny, blue-green foliage topped with clusters of pendant, heart-shaped pink flowers from spring to fall if the soil is kept moist. You will find cultivars in red, pink or white. ‘Burning Hearts’ is a hybrid that has striking blue-gray foliage and blooms profusely in late spring/early summer. Under ideal conditions and care it may rebloom.

Bergenia has leathery, glossy, dark green leaves which are heart-shaped at the base. It has small, dark pink panicles of flowers and blooms in spring. It will tolerate full shade, but you will get more blooms if it is in part shade.

Astilbe have plumes of flowers that come in white, pink or red. Some species have drooping plumes, while others are more erect and fluffy. Depending on the species of Astilbe they can bloom anywhere from early to late summer and range from 8 to 36 inches in height.

Cimicifuga, also known as Actaea, is great to use as a vertical accent plant. It is a long-lived plant with eye-catching, bottlebrush-like wands of white or cream-colored flowers. Although it will tolerate deep shade, it performs best in light to medium shade. Cimicifuga thrive in rich, slightly acidic soil with lots of organic matter and soil that is kept consistently moist throughout the growing season. It blooms in August and September, depending on the cultivar.

Heuchera (coral bell) not only have dainty sprays of flowers, many have beautiful foliage too. Depending on the variety, flower colors will come in various shades of red, pink or white. There is a wide range of foliage coloration and leaves often change color as the season progresses. They grow best in light shade and need to be watered frequently.

Pulmonaria (lungwort) bloom in spring and early summer. Many cultivars have interesting fuzzy foliage with speckles or splotches of silver that are attractive throughout the season. The flowers, which attract hummingbirds, are bell-shaped with colors ranging from pink, blue, and purple, with some plants having all three colors in their flowers. ‘Sissinghurst White’ is the only white flowering cultivar. In order to thrive, they need to be planted in rich, well-drained soil high in organic matter and kept evenly moist.

Tiarella (foamflower) is a woodland wildflower that has attractive maple leaf-shaped foliage and spikes of small, starry white or pale pink flowers in late May and early June. It likes rich organic, moist soil.

There are many violets from which to choose. They also bloom in late spring and early summer. One thing to keep in mind about violets is they self-seed prolifically.

July Gardening Tips

• To keep plants producing, keep picking peas and beans-then later on-tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

• Prune summer-bearing and ever-bearing raspberry plants right after harvest. Remove all the older canes that bore fruit this summer by cutting them to the ground.

• Fertilize flowers in containers every week or two all summer long with a water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength.

• Leaf lettuce, spinach and radish turn bitter and bolt in July’s heat. Pull them out of the garden and replace them with broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower for fall harvest.

• Keep garden beds weed free. Weeds compete with other plants for space, light, water and nutrients, and may host insects that spread disease.

• Stop harvesting rhubarb and asparagus this month to ensure productivity next year.

• As soon as tomatoes set fruit, begin to monitor the lower leaves for Septoria leaf spot. Remove infected foliage and spray plants with a registered protective fungicide if the disease is severe. Mulching around the plants may help prevent disease organisms from splashing up from the soil.

• Mid-month, work additional fertilizer in a circle around tomato plants.

• When picking flowers for floral arrangements, pick them early in the morning before they begin to lose much moisture. Strip the lower leaves, then cut the base of the stems before plunging them into a vase of tepid water. Change the water every day or two. Or, dissolve floral preservative in the water before adding flowers.

• Cut back the old stems of Delphiniums to the fresh growth at the base of the plant to encourage new growth and a second flush of flowers.

• You can dig up weeds now, but don’t spray with an herbicide until the fall when it is cooler. Fertilizer and herbicide applications can burn lawns during hot weather.

• During the growing season, trees need one inch of water per week to keep their roots hydrated. It is especially important to water evergreens well during hot, dry weather. Woody plants weakened by drought stress are more susceptible to insect pests, diseases and winter injury.

• July is a good month to prune maples, birch and other trees that bleed when pruned in late winter.

• Keep applying repellents to discourage rabbits, woodchucks and deer from feasting on your plants.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. All information given in this column is based on university research. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 218-454-GROW (4769) and leave a recorded message. A Master Gardener will return your call.

Container Corner

Fourteen years ago, during an interview for my first landscaping job, my soon-to-be boss asked me if I knew what deadheading was.

I giggled and said I knew what a Deadhead was, but had never heard it used as a verb before. Luckily, my soon-to-be boss was an old hippie, so she thought this was funny and hired me anyways. And that’s where it all began.

Deadheading means removing old, spent flowers from a plant to remove seed pods, improve its appearance, and encourage new blooms. This blog post will cover the basic concepts of deadheading and highlight how to deadhead a few commonly sold annual flowering plants.

Basics of Deadheading

Most annuals have tender stems and can be deadheaded by pinching off the old blooms with your fingers, small pruners, or scissors.

To figure out how far back to cut a stem, examine the rest of the plant to see where blooms form. Do they perch atop a stem from the base of the plant? Do they emerge from a bud just above or below an older bloom? Or maybe new blooms appear on a stem that branches off from the base of the older bloom, forming a crotch. Understanding where new blooms form is crucial before you deadhead, or else you may end up removing flower buds.

Once you’ve determined where new blooms emerge, remove the old bloom so that the new bloom is unaffected. This may mean removing a whole stem, part of a stem, or just the tip. If unsure, it’s best to just remove the spent flower, including the seed pod(s), and leave the stem intact. It’s also generally a safe bet to cut right above the first set of leaves below the spent bloom.

Flowering annuals may or may not need deadheading, depending on the variety. For example, most of the newer varieties of Lantana and Verbena are sterile and won’t put energy into seed development. But if you grow an old-fashioned variety, plants will still benefit from the removal of spent flowers. Angelonia, one of my favorite annuals, doesn’t require deadheading, but I think it helps to remove spent branches of flowers.

Easiest Annuals to Deadhead

Geraniums are one of my favorite annuals to deadhead because each bloom grows on its own stem, which makes it easy to snap them off the main stem with a gentle twist of the fingers.

Marigolds are another favorite to deadhead, because their spent blooms pull off easily with a delightful pop.

Gerbera Daisy blooms each grow on their own stem, which can simply be cut at the base to remove spent blooms.

Salvia’s spiky blooms are easy to remove and should be cut back to the first set of leaves or to the crotch where the next blooms have formed

Deadheading Dahlias can be a little tricky because their buds look similar to their seed pods, but the seed pods are more pointed while the buds are flatter and rounder. Remove the seed pod and stem down at the point where it meets the main stem.

Pinching Petunias

Some annuals, like Petunias, require more pinching than deadheading.

Petunias deserve an entire blog post on their own, but I will touch on the basics. Most newer varieties of petunias don’t require deadheading (like Wave, Tidal Wave, and Supertunias), but all of them will perform better if regularly cut back. This is hard for most people, because it requires removing flowers from the plant. But without pinching, Petunias will turn into a leggy mess by mid-summer.

Every week or two, especially once stems have reached six to eight inches long, choose a long stem and cut it back at least half to promote more blooms and bushier growth. For older Petunia varieties, deadheading by pinching off spent blooms and seed heads is recommended. Or you can be like me and stay away from Petunias altogether by using Calibrachoa (Million Bells) in their place.

Self-cleaning Flowers

Then there are plants that don’t require deadheading at all, also known as self-cleaning flowers. Spent flowers will either fall off the plant on their own, or new blooms cover the old blooms. The most common self-cleaning flowers are Impatiens, Begonias, Calibrachoa (Million Bells), and Vinca. Some other common annual flowers that don’t need deadheading include Euphorbia, Mecardonia, Bacopa, Scaevola, Portulaca.

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