CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Deadheading in the aviation industry refers to an employee who travels as a passenger for logistical reasons, such as to return home from an assignment. It also refers to anyone traveling for free. The term is used to describe a truck or train moved between cities with no passengers or freight. And it's used to define a person who attends a theatrical or musical performance or who stays at a hotel without charge.
Before I became an avid gardener, I only thought in terms of followers of the Grateful Dead.
Now I know that deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers from plants. When you pinch or cut off fading flowers, the plant puts its energy back into making more flowers, prolonging their color in the garden. With some plants, you can also get a second bloom.
I would entice my children to help me with deadheading when they were young by telling them they were giving the plants a haircut. And remember -- probably the worst thing you can do wrong when deadheading is to give your plant a bad haircut.
A few rules of thumb: Deadhead when a flower starts to brown or wither; tall flowers should be cut at the base of the stem, use handheld grass shears or small hedge clippers to trim bushy plants with many small flowers.
Here are some favorite perennials and annuals that benefit from deadheading, and some tips on how to do it.
Astilbe: Leave seed heads standing until unattractive, then cut to ground; doesn't rebloom.
Balloon flower: Remove individual spent flowers; sap is sticky, clean pruner with alcohol; can rebloom.
Bee balm: Cut back to side buds; when finished flowering, cut back to 4 or 5 inches to promote healthy foliage; doesn't rebloom.
Cardinal flower: Cut flower spikes to 3 inches for a small rebloom.
Coral bells: Cut stems below the foliage mound; will sometimes have a small rebloom.
Cosmos: Cut individual flower stalks to first leaves to promote branching and reblooming.
Dahlia: Cut individual flower stalks to first leaves to promote branching and reblooming.
Daylily: Snap off spent flowers to promote larger later flowers; cut finished stems to the ground; some cultivars rebloom, others don't.
Dianthus: Deadhead as soon as flowers fade to prevent reseeding; remove stems but allow foliage clump to remain; doesn't rebloom.