Make no mistake, deadheading is an art. Get it wrong and you will have fewer flowers or none at all. Get it right and the show will keep running through the dog days of August and beyond. Not for nothing does Glyndebourne, the East Sussex opera house, have a volunteer deadheader who daily arms herself with an old compost bag and patrols the borders, cutting off the spent stems so that the displays look fresh as a daisy, and new flowers are encouraged to grow.
Sweet peas are the best example of what happens if you stop cutting the flowers — absolutely nothing. Instead, they turn their energy into producing seedheads to ensure the line’s survival. Of course, you can delay the inevitable by picking sweet peas daily. Cut the stems just above the leaf joint and you will keep the flower show going, along with a weekly encouragement of low-dose tomato feed at the roots.
Cutting roses follows the same principle. Whether you snip them for the vase or for the compost heap, use sharp secateurs and cut off the stem just above a leaf joint. While you’re at it, cut off any foliage that shows signs of blackspot.
Calibrachoa, also known, aptly, as Million Bells, are increasingly popular container plants and their small, fluted flowers are available in the most mouthwatering shades, but you need to cut off the short stems of faded blooms every few days to keep more coming. This, I can confidently report, is a dextrous task, for which you will need a pair of very small, sharp and short-bladed scissors.
By contrast, pelargoniums are, forgive the pun, a snip to deadhead. Hold your palm around the flowerhead to stop the petals scattering and, with your other hand, snap off the stem at its base, where it grows from the main stem.
Petunias are a stickier proposition, literally, and however carefully you nip off the stem with your thumbnail (removing the flower alone will have no effect) you will need to wash your hands afterwards.
Fuchsias are easy to tackle because, as the flowers mature, the stems grow spindlier, so practically come away in your hands.
Some plants, such as cosmos, verbena, lantana and calendula, have small but visible flower buds, ready to replace the faded ones, so it’s easy to see where you cut the stem — right to the base where buds are forming on either side.
Diascia, nemesia, lobelia, bacopa and all those other tiny flowers that are more like blossom: leave them be, but when there is an obvious mat of dead flowers, shear them off, as you would groundcover geraniums, with the hope of a second flush.
Deadheading should take moments, not days. Snipping or snapping off faded flowers is a relaxing ritual before you water container plants. While you’re doing that, check under the mat of flowers that snails haven’t taken up residence, feasting on a daily basis. Even a mulch of shingle is a cosy place in which to nestle.
If you’re going on holiday and a neighbour is coming in to water, you can’t expect them to deadhead so, just before you leave, steel yourself to snip off the stems of all flowers in near and full bloom. It’s a brutal act, but one that will reward you with a raft of fresh flowers on your return.