Deadheading mistakes – 5 errors to avoid when neatening up your flowering plants

Keep these tips in mind when removing spent blooms and you'll be rewarded with better results

deadheading dahlias
(Image credit: Deborah Vernon / Alamy Stock Photo)

Deadheading is on most gardeners' to-do list throughout the year, especially when flower borders burst into life during the summer months. The process is pretty simple, but there are a few mistakes that are often made which can result in more harm than good.

There are two main reasons for deadheading. The first is to neaten up the appearance of plants by removing faded blooms, which can really make a difference to the overall aesthetic of a backyard. The second, if desired, is to prevent plants from producing seed. This, in turn, allows energy to be channeled into strong, new growth and more flowers for the season. It can also prevent new, unwanted plants from cropping up around your flower beds uncontrollably.

collecting dead flower heads in a basket

Removing faded flowers will instantly refresh your garden beds

(Image credit: Matthew Taylor / Alamy Stock Photo)

5 mistakes to avoid when deadheading flowers

Keep your plants healthy and your borders and container garden displays thriving with these tips.

1. Missing out on free plants by removing every faded flower

Collecting seeds from homegrown flowers and then planting them in trays is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to bring more blooms to your garden. But, if you deadhead all your plants' flowers, there will be no seeds to sow.

By leaving just a flower or two alone as you tidy the others, you'll be rewarded with a healthy harvest of seeds. These can be gathered and stored, ready for sowing later on. Or, if you don't mind a more organic look, you can simply leave them to fall and naturally self-sow. 

Gardening expert John Negus leaves a couple of his hellebore flowers in place when deadheading, for instance. 'Hellebores self-propagate easily and you often find seedlings shooting up around the parent plants,' he says.

John Negus
John Negus

John has been a garden journalist for over 50 years and regularly answers readers' questions in Amateur Gardening magazine. He has also written four books and has delivered many talks over the years on horticulture.

person holding dead flowers in a garden

Don't miss the opportunity to collect seeds from your plants

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Cutting in the wrong place

One of the biggest pruning mistakes is cutting in the wrong place, and this applies to deadheading, too.

'It's important to prune just above a leaf node or a set of healthy leaves,' says landscaping expert Gene Caballero. 'Avoid cutting too far down the stem, as this can lead to the formation of a bare stem without any foliage or future blooms.

'Be careful not to accidentally remove new buds or growth points while deadheading,' Gene adds. 'These buds are crucial for the plant's future blooms, and removing them can disrupt the flowering cycle.'

Gene Caballero
Gene Caballero

Gene Caballero is the Co-founder of GreenPal which has been described as Uber for lawn care. With over 25 years of experience in the landscaping industry, he has developed a deep expertise in all aspects of general landscaping. From designing and creating outdoor spaces to maintaining and enhancing existing landscapes, his knowledge spans a wide range of landscaping techniques and practices.

hands removing dead flowers from an aster

Cut back to a leaf to avoid leaving unsightly stalks sticking out of your flower beds

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

3. Using the wrong tools

Deadheading doesn't call for any fancy tools. In fact, some plants, such as pelargoniums, can be deadheaded by hand by pinching with a forefinger and thumb. Or, you can simply snap out the entire flower stalk if the whole cluster of blooms has gone over. However, a pair of snips or pruners can come in handy for tougher stems or more precise cuts.

While bypass pruners are suitable for soft-stemmed plants, if you're cutting through thicker stems, it's worth switching to an anvil pair for a cleaner cut. Whatever tool you use, ensure it's clean and sharp beforehand, and take care to re-clean it as you work between plants to lessen any risk of spreading diseases. 'Simply wiping down your tools with a disinfectant solution or rubbing alcohol can help keep your plants healthy and disease-free,' says Becky Decker from GardeningHood.com.

Gonicc Professional Micro-Tip Pruning Snip | $17.95 from Amazon

Gonicc Professional Micro-Tip Pruning Snip | $17.95 from Amazon
These ergonomically designed snips are made from durable stainless steel. They're perfect for making precise cuts as you deadhead faded flowers.

bucket full of dead flowers from deadheading

Keep your gardening tools clean

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

4. Removing dead flowers that have ornamental value

While some flowers look brown, shriveled, and generally unattractive once they've gone over, others actually add aesthetic value if left to their own devices. For example, the Royal Horticultural Society highlights how nigella, honesty, and Chinese lanterns all have ornamental seedheads. Left to develop, these can add sculptural interest to your display, and can be picked for dried arrangements indoors, too.

Some seedheads also provide a valuable food source for birds, such as sunflowers. Meanwhile, many roses will produce hips, which add a pop of color to the fall garden.

rose hips

Rose hips look beautiful and are good for birds, too

(Image credit: Pauline Lewis / Moment / Getty Images)

5. Cutting back foliage when deadheading spring bulbs

When deadheading spring bulbs such as daffodils, it's tempting to cut back the foliage, too. However, doing this too early should definitely be avoided.

'Let their leaves die back naturally,' says John Negus. 'Keep the foliage watered regularly and fed fortnightly as it withers away, and this will help feed the bulbs for the following year’s spring display.' In the meantime, you can move them to a reserve bed in your yard if you find their appearance too unsightly.

daffodils with dead flowers

Daffodils can be deadheaded, but leave the leaves to die back naturally

(Image credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo)

Whether you're deadheading dahlias, lavender, or another plant in your yard, it's a relaxing and worthwhile outdoor task for a sunny afternoon. But before you remove every bloom in sight at wild abandon, bear these deadheading mistakes in mind – you'll be rewarded with better results, healthier plants, and potentially, free flowers.

Holly Crossley
Senior Content Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.