What to do with lilies after they bloom?

Care of the Easter Lily after Flowering

Now that the flowers of the Easter Lily have withered, many people are wondering what to do with the remaining plant. The lily doesn’t survive as a houseplant, but it can be planted outdoors where it should bloom again. Until it is safe to plant outdoors, keep the plant in a sunny window and water thoroughly when slightly dry.

Select a bright sunny spot in the garden to plant the bulb. Remove the plant from the container and loosen the root system. There will be some torn roots, but it is better for the plant than the compacted root system it has in the container. Plant the bulb a few inches deeper than it was in the container and cover with soil. Water thoroughly and fertilize with an all-purpose garden fertilizer. For the remainder of the season water and fertilize as you would other garden plantings. Soon after planting the old top will wither and die. This is no cause for alarm because new shoots will soon emerge that may flower in July or August. If the plant doesn’t flower later that summer, they will flower the next summer in June.

Some gardeners have good results when overwintering lilies although they are not reliably hardy. To improve your chances for overwintering success, mulch the plants with at least 4″ of straw in the fall. Another option is to dig the bulb in the fall and store indoors the same way we do other tender bulbs such as canna.

This article originally appeared in the April 29, 1992 issue, p. 61.

Deadheading Flowers: Encouraging A Second Bloom In The Garden

Most annuals and many perennials will continue to bloom throughout the growing season if they are regularly deadheaded. Deadheading is the gardening term used for the removal of faded or dead flowers from plants. Deadheading is generally done both to maintain a plant’s appearance and to improve its overall performance.

Why You Should Be Deadheading Your Flowers

Deadheading is an important task to keep up with in the garden throughout the growing season. Most flowers lose their attraction as they fade, spoiling the overall appearance of a garden or individual plants. As flowers shed their petals and begin to form seed heads, energy is focused into the development of the seeds, rather than the flowers. Regular deadheading, however, channels the energy into the flowers, resulting in healthier plants and continual blooms. Snapping or cutting dead flower heads can enhance the flowering performance of many perennials.

If you’re like most gardeners, deadheading may feel like a tedious, never-ending garden chore, but the new blooms spawned from this task can make the extra effort well worth it.

Some of the more commonly grown plants that reward this effort with a second bloom are:

  • Bleeding heart
  • Phlox
  • Delphinium
  • Lupine
  • Sage
  • Salvia
  • Veronica
  • Shasta daisy
  • Yarrow
  • Coneflower

The second bloom will also be longer lasting.

How to Deadhead a Plant

Deadheading flowers is very simple. As plants fade out of bloom, pinch or cut off the flower stem below the spent flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Repeat with all the dead flowers on the plant.

Sometimes it may be easier to deadhead plants by shearing them back entirely. Shear away the top few inches of the plant, enough to remove the spent blossoms. Always check plants carefully to ensure that no flower buds are hiding amid the faded blooms before you shear the top of the plant. If you happen to find any new buds, cut the stem just above them.

Get in the habit of deadheading early and often. If you spend at least a short time in the garden each day, your deadheading task will be much easier. Start early, around late spring, while there are only a few plants with faded flowers. Repeat the process every couple of days and the chore of deadheading flowers will lessen each time. However, if you choose to wait until later in the season, like early fall, the dreaded task of deadheading will be rightfully overwhelming.

Nothing is more rewarding to a gardener than watching the garden come to life with beautiful blooms, and by practicing the task of deadheading throughout the season, nature will bless you with a second wave of blooms to enjoy even more.

To Deadhead or Not to Deadhead…

The phrase Deadhead has a whole different meaning for those of us who are gardeners, rather than the general public out there. If you google either Dead Head or deadhead the search results will return information on fans of the Grateful Dead not the act of removing spent blooms from plants. It takes typing in ‘Gardening Deadhead’ to get results that will be helpful in learning more about keeping plants in bloom.

I am often the person who answers questions sent in by gardeners and recently one of the most common questions has been when and how to deadhead specific plants. In this article I will give a brief summary of why deadheading is sometimes necessary, how you should deadhead and which Proven Winners® plants need deadheading.

First, what exactly is deadheading? This gardening term simply means to remove the old spent blooms including any developing seed from a plant to help keep it blooming longer.

Your next question is likely to be “Why does a plant bloom more if you remove old flowers?” In the grand scheme of things flowers are meant to ensure survival of the species. All of the various blooms that nature developed (not plant breeders) are an attempt to ensure that seeds are produced and the next generation of plants develops. In some cases, once seed has been produced, thus ensuring the survival of the species, the plant will stop blooming since there is no reason to put energy into blooming any longer.

It was probably a gardener that figured out removing old flowers before they produce seed will keep plants blooming longer. This can be a rather time consuming endeavor, but many times is considered a labor of love. In more recent times, plant breeders have put a lot of effort into increasing the blooming time of plants. Someone then realized that sterile plants, those that do not produce seed, will bloom continuously even when you don’t deadhead. These plants keep on trying, unsuccessfully, to produce seed so they keep producing flowers. Rather frustrating for the plant, but easy for the gardener.

As time has gone on plant breeders have put a lot of effort into choosing plants that will continue to bloom without deadheading. Sometimes this is because the flowers are sterile and sometimes it is simply because it is possible to choose plants who are prolific bloomers despite setting seed. Proven Winners® tries to select plants that are prolific bloomers, but still are “low maintenance,” which generally means that they don’t need to be deadheaded. Another part of “low-maintenance” refers to the fact that many of our plants are “self-cleaning”. This simply means that wind or other factors will cause the flowers to either blow off the plant or simply melt away leaving no old flower to remove. Now if only my car was self-cleaning!

Choosing plants that don’t need deadheading would certainly be the easiest route to continuous flowers. However, in some cases there will be a plant you can’t do without, even though deadheading is required, or perhaps the sight of old blooms still hanging on to plants will be unsightly enough that you want to remove them anyway. In these cases knowing how to properly deadhead will be necessary.

In most cases, when deadheading you can simply remove the old flower by pinching off the stem just below the base of the flower. This will remove the old flower and keep it from producing seed – the goal of deadheading. If the flower stem is large or you don’t want to stain your fingernails green, you may find using pruning shears or scissors to be a better choice. Please note that simply pulling off the dead flower petals without removing the developing seed pod does not increase flower production since seeds will still develop.

Any flower can be removed just above the first leaf below the flower head without affecting the rest of the plant. For plants with larger stems removing just the flower may leave an ugly stem exposed. Cutting just above the first leaf, will remove the unsightly stem as well as the flower. This is also the preferred method of deadheading for plants that bloom with spikes of flowers. New research has recently shown that even roses flower more prolifically when old flowers are removed just above the first leaf below the flower rather than at the first set of 5 leaves (this is the standard method promoted by most people).

For many gardeners, deadheading is a time consuming chore they simply don’t have the time to perform. Some newer varieties of plants that used to have to be deadheaded, for instance Supertunia® petunias, are tailor made for these time-starved gardeners. However, there are gardeners that find deadheading to be a great excuse to spend time in the garden, a time honored tradition, a way to relax at the end of a busy day or even a Zen-like activity. If you are a gardener who enjoys deadheading, never fear. Even though the plants may no longer need deadheading to bloom continuously, doing so will not harm the plants. Feel free to remove as many spent flowers as you wish.

While a good rule of thumb is always nice to have, a list of how to deadhead specific plants is also useful. Below is a quick rundown of our Proven Winners plants and some notes on deadheading.

Deadheading not necessary for Continuous Bloom

Ageratum Artist® – they will “bury their dead” (this simply means the new flowers will quickly cover the old flowers) so no deadheading is necessary. This is not necessarily true of other series of Ageratum.

Angelonia Angelface® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Argyranthemum Butterfly – removing old blooms may improve appearance.

Begonia Surefire® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Bidens – The petals are self cleaning, however, seed heads may persist and removing them can improve appearance. Deadheading will not improve flower production.

Browallia Endless™ – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Calendula Lady Godiva® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed, although some

Calibrachoa Superbells® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Canna Toucan® – Watch for pod development. If seed pods develop, remove them. If they don’t, deadheading isn’t necessary. Remove spent flowers, being careful not to remove buds which will be close to the flower stalks.

Chrysocephalum Flambe® Yellow – generally self-cleaning, although occasional cleaning may improve appearance. No deadheading needed for continued bloom.

Cleome The Rosalitas – the plants are seed sterile, self-cleaning, deadheading isn’t necessary

Cuphea – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Dahlia Mystic Illusion – deadheading isn’t needed, although removal of spent flowers and their stems can help tidy the plants.

Euphorbia Hybrid The Diamonds – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Evolvulus Blue My Mind® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Gaura – each flowering stem adds blooms, continuously to the end of the spike. As time goes on the flowering stems can get rather long and tangled. Although deadheading isn’t necessary for continued blooming you may find that you prefer to trim back some of the flowering stems at some point in mid-summer. This will encourage new flowering stems to emerge. Flowers will be closer to the foliage and the plant will look tidier. If you choose, you can trim all the flower stems off at once, however, you should then expect a 2 to 3 week period without flowers.

Gomphrena Truffula™ Pink – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Heuchera – They begin blooming in early spring. Deadheading won’t keep them blooming longer. However, removing the flower stems once the plant has finished blooming will keep them looking tidier.

Hypoestes Hippo® – They are grown for their foliage. If flowers do appear, removing flowers and trimming the plants back should improve their appearance.

Impatiens Rockapulco® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Impatiens Infinity® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Isotoma – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lamium Chablis – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lantana Luscious® – self cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lobelia Laguna® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Lobularia – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Mecardonia GoldDust™ – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Nemesia – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Osteospermum Soprano®, Bright Lights® and Symphony – “bury their dead,” no deadheading needed

Oxalis Charmed® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Pelargonium Boldly® and Timeless™ – Deadheading will improve appearance, although it isn’t strictly necessary for all season flowering.

Petunia Supertunia® – self-cleaning, no deadheading necesary, this is not necessarily true of all Petunias. You may want to remove old blooms of Supertunia® doubles since these larger flowers sometimes remain on the plant. Leaving them will not affect flowering.

Phlox Intensia® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed, this may not be true of all phlox.

Portulaca Mojave® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Salvia Rockin’® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Sanvitalia Sunbini® – “buries its dead,” no deadheading needed

Scaevola Whirlwind® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Perennial Sedum – the seed heads will remain on this summer to fall blooming plant. Removing them will not keep the plant blooming longer. Many people consider the seed heads to be attractive and will allow them to remain on the plant throughout the winter before removing them as part of their garden spring cleaning.

Solenostemon Coleus ColorBlaze® – Coleus are grown for foliage, our plants are selected to bloom late in the season because blooming usually signals a decrease in foliage quality. Removal of flower spikes, if they occur, will help keep the foliage looking good.

Sutera Snowstorm® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Thunbergia A-Peel® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Torenia Catalina® and Summer Wave® – self-cleaning, no deadheading needed

Verbena Superbena® – self cleaning, no deadheading needed

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Planting and Caring for Lilies

In Chinese, the word “lily” means “forever in love.” These beautiful and fragrant flowers have been a symbol of purity for more than 3,000 years, and can be enjoyed as a cut flower in an arrangement or growing in your garden.

The cultivation of lilies dates back to 1500 B.C. with the Madonna lily, or lilium candidum. Many of the bright colors and forms of lilies were found on botanical expeditions during the 1800s in Asia. The Chinese and Japanese lily species were exported to Europe and hybridized to create new varieties that are popular today as cut flowers and as garden plants.

Today, lilies are one of the top cut flowers in the world due to their long vase life, flower form, and fragrance. In the garden, they are reliable perennials coming back every year with large gorgeous flowers requiring very little care.

White Flower Farm, a mail order nursery that grows and ships plants directly to customers, sells 23 varieties of lilies and several types of lily mixes. There are nine major divisions of lilies with oriental and Asiatic being the most popular. Oriental lilies are known for their large flowers and fragrance. They should be planted toward the middle or back of the garden due to their tall stems and large flowers. Asiatic lilies are known for their strong stems, flower count and bright colors and should be planted in the middle to front of the border as they are stockier.

Oriental Lilies

  • Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’: Pure white with out-facing blooms, highly fragrant, and majestic looking, these are one of the most popular wedding flowers used today. In the garden, they grow to 4 feet or more.
  • Lilium ‘Robina’: A cross between oriental lilies and trumpet lilies, known as Orienpets or OTs, these flowers are a new color breakthrough of lavender from Holland.
  • Lilium ‘Stargazer’: Widely recognized as one of the most popular lilies grown today, the Stargazer has a dark red/pink color and is up-facing and fragrant. This is also a good garden variety and very popular as a cut flower.
  • Lilium ‘Shocking’: Another cross between oriental and trumpet with striking yellow flowers striped with red, these flowers are out-facing and large.

Asiatic Lilies

  • Lilium ‘Loreto’: Bright orange with brush marks on each petal near the center, the loreto grows stocky and short with many flower buds per stem.
  • Lilium ‘Toronto’: A rich dark pink with a little yellow toward the center, the Toronto flowers face upward and are clustered toward the top of the stem. They are an early-blooming variety that can grow to 4 feet.
  • Lilium ‘Litouwen’: A pure white LA hybrid (a cross between Asiatic lilies and longiflorum lilies, which are the trumpet lilies), this group is very popular both as a cut flower and as a garden variety due to the strong stems and high bud count.
  • Lilium ‘Pisa’: Bright yellow with a golden blush in the center of the flower, the Pisa brightens any garden. ‘Pollyana’ is another yellow variety that is known for being an excellent cut flower as well as garden performer with 6 or more flowers per stem.

Planting Lilies

The best time to plant lily bulbs is either early spring or mid- to late fall. Lilies prefer cool soil (below 60 degrees) to root properly; planting in warm soil will lead to weak plants and smaller flowers. After the first year they will rebound from the transplant and perform well.

Lily bulbs are succulent fleshy scales with no protective covering which makes them different from other bulbs. They are not dormant so they need to be planted as soon as possible after you receive them. Keep them in the bags in which they came with wood shavings in a cool place until you are ready to plant.

Lilies prefer moist soil but not wet feet. If you have an area that has standing water, they will most likely rot over the winter. Choose a well-drained site, preferably not too dry. For sunlight, you will have more flowers and stocky stems with full sun but partial shade is the best because it protects them from the burning hot mid-day sun. They will hold their flowers longer and the color is better when they receive some shade during the day. The perfect spot has morning sun and late afternoon shade.

White Flower Farm’s “As Time Goes By” collection combines ‘Casa Blanca’ lilies and hay-scented fern, dennstaedtia punctiloba. This fern thrives in the sun, which makes it different from others and combines well with the lilies, filling in the surrounding area with beautiful texture. Lilies like ferns at their feet because they have shallow roots which form a mat, keeping the lily bulbs cool.

The best planting depth for bulbs is generally three times the size of the bulb. For oriental lilies, 6-inches is a good depth. Asiatics can be planted 4 to 5 inches deep. Adding some bulb food or bone meal gives them some phosphorus to start. Interplant the ferns and lilies by planting them in an alternating pattern 10 inches apart.

Adding some compost or dried aged manure for organic matter will help hold the moisture and fertilizer. Lilies and ferns like moisture, so it is important to water them after you plant and water them during dry periods. Lilies enjoy bulb food and mulch in the spring. Remember when you are planting that it is best to plant in a patch keeping the bulbs grouped together so when they flower it makes a statement. A common error is to plant them too far apart or in a row.

Caring for Cut Lilies

Lilies in a vase are elegant; there are a few tips to keep them looking their best. First, only cut the length you need for the vase, nothing extra. Any foliage or stem that you leave on the plant will feed the bulb for the next year. If you purchase cut lilies, remove the foliage that is under the water but leave the leaves above as they retain moisture for the stem and flower.

Removing the anthers, which carry the pollen, can prevent a clothing disaster — it can stain your clothing as soon as water hits the area. If you do by chance get pollen on your clothing it is important to remove it; try using cellophane tape for simple removal. For cut flower care, use flower preservative that you receive from the florist and cut the stems on a 45-degree angle. Every few days, change the water and recut 1/2 inch off of the stems. Keep your flowers out of direct sunlight and they will last longer.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Barbara Pierson for giving lily bulbs and copies of the White Flower Farm catalog to our studio audience.

Gardening FAQ

If proper cultural practices for your lilies are followed, they should grow strong and upright. Lilies need good drainage, full sun, compost-amended soil early on, and mulch added over the roots to keep the soil evenly moist in summer.

Some lilies such as ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Stargazer’ can reach 4-5 feet tall and may need extra support. If you want to add a support, do it early in the season when you see the plant starting to grow–an easier task than when the plant is in full bloom. To make a support, you can use bamboo stakes inserted in the ground around the plant, or one stake firmly placed, tying the stem to the stake loosely in a figure eight pattern. Be careful not to pierce the bulb when inserting the stakes. You can also purchase metal supports for the same purpose. These are available at garden nurseries or on line.

Cut blooms just when they begin to open, taking care not to let their pollen stain your clothes. If you plan to use some for arrangements, remember that it’s always best to cut stems just as the flower buds are opening early in the morning, while it’s still cool. A few stems are all you will need for a lovely arrangement.

Flowers in the garden will eventually fade. Gently remove the faded ones to encourage blooming and to keep plants from using all their energy producing seeds. Once the stems and leaves turn yellow and wither, cut the plant back to the ground.

For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
– Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service

Deadheading Lilies: How To Deadhead A Lily Plant

Lilies are an extremely varied and popular group of plants that produce beautiful, and sometimes, very fragrant flowers. But what happens when those flowers fade? Should you cut them off or leave them where they are? Keep reading to learn more about how to deadhead a lily plant.

Should You Deadhead Lily Flowers

Deadheading is the term given to removing the spent flowers from a plant. With some plants, deadheading actually encourages new flowers to bloom. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for lilies. Once a stem has finished blooming, that’s it. Cutting off the spent flowers isn’t going to make way for any new buds.

Deadheading lilies is still a good idea for a couple of reasons, though. For one thing, it cleans up the appearance of the plant as a whole. If you’re growing lilies, you probably want to keep the foliage around through the summer so the plants will come back the following spring. Your garden will look much nicer without spent flowers hanging around.

About Deadheading Lilies

More important than aesthetics, though, is how your lily plant expends its energy. If a lily flower is pollinated, it will shrivel and make way for a seed pod – this is how lilies reproduce. This is all well and good, unless you plan on using the same bulb to grow more lilies next year.

Producing seed pods takes energy that the plant could be putting to use storing up carbohydrates in the bulb for next year’s growth. Deadheading lily plants channels all that energy into the bulb.

So how to deadhead a lily plant? Once a lily flower has faded, just break it off with your fingers or snip it off with a pair of shears to stop seed pod production. Make sure not to take off any leaves with the flower, however. The plant needs all its leaves to take in as much energy as possible.

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