Plant Good Habits: Deadheading, Pruning and Pinching

Deadheading, pruning and pinching flowers and shrubs are horticultural practices that do wonders for your plants by encouraging growth and improving appearance.

Getting all the dead stuff off the plants helps keep them looking and feeling their best. But deadheading, pruning and pinching are not all the same, so it’s important to know the difference and how it all affects your plants. 

What is deadheading?

It sounds sort of sinister, but it’s not. When the blooms on your plants die or fade, it’s time to deadhead. Locate the spent flower, follow its stem all the way down, and cut above the first set of full, healthy leaves. You can do this for all the dead flowers at once, or just revisit the plant frequently and keep up with it throughout the blooming season. 

Plants that have multiple blooms will generally respond well to deadheading. Here are some common varieties: 

  • Cosmos
  • Marigolds
  • Petunias
  • Roses
  • Salvia
  • Sweet peas
  • Bee balms
  • Zinnias

Not all flowers need to be deadheaded.

If you’ve got biennials or plants that self-seed, don’t deadhead them. That’s because many of these varieties produced foliage in their first life cycle, then blooms in their second year. If you let them go to seed, you can keep the cycle of new blooms going. And even if you love your flowers, deadheading them helps control their spread of seeds around your yard into places you might not wish. 

Here are some plants you shouldn’t deadhead:

  • Foxglove
  • Hollyhock
  • Sweet William
  • Columbine
  • Poppies
  • Peonies
  • Forget-me-nots

What is pruning?

Pruning is different from deadheading because it’s generally done to larger flowering plants and shrubs. Think of it as giving your shrub or plant a haircut. 

You can prune to shape a plant into a desired form, or to clear out dead or diseased branches and foliage. All of it encourages new growth. When and how you prune depends on the variety you’re growing. 

Cut stems or branches off the shrubs strategically—usually just above a node, or new growth, which holds at least one leaf and buds that will grow into branches with more buds. If you cut a plant in this way, it allows more branching stems to grow. You can shape the shrub by pruning, or you can stimulate the shrub’s overall growth. You can prune to decrease the chances of a plant with long stems sustaining seasonal damage. 

Cutting away overgrown branches and stems allows better air circulation and overall sun exposure. 

If you prune a flowering plant well, you can stimulate more blooms. You can even cut it all the way back to the ground, so its roots can benefit more from seasonal dormancy. It’s just good for the overall health of the plant. 

Cutting instruments

Anything sharp and precise enough, such as the Vego Garden Hori Hori Knife, to cleanly cut through branches and foliage is good. Pro tip: Disinfect your cutting implement. That way, in case the plant is carrying a disease, you do not transfer it elsewhere. Use regular rubbing alcohol to disinfect the blades before you move on to cutting the next plant. 

So, what’s pinching?

This is the same as pruning, but on young plants. You are pinching off the top growth of a plant to encourage it to produce more side branches, or to become fuller. 

This method is beneficial for:

  • Zinnias
  • Dahlias
  • Cosmos

Make it a habit

When you deadhead, prune, and pinch regularly, you are eliminating dead, diseased parts that reduce the life of the plant. You can also thin out overgrowth to allow more sunlight and water to access the plant, which also reduces the likelihood of pests or disease. If you do it regularly and correctly, your fruits, veggies, and plants will flourish. 




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