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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Deadheading roses encourages new growth

STILLWATER, Okla. – When you hear the term deadhead, some people may think of the faithful followers of the legendary rock band The Grateful Dead. However, for gardeners, the term has to do with keeping their gardens and landscapes looking good.

A rose bush in full bloom is a beautiful sight, but once the roses have bloomed and the flowers begin to fade, they should be removed, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer floriculturist.

“This process is called deadheading. Gardeners deadhead their roses to encourage the plant to produce more flowers,” Hillock said. “When spent blooms are allowed to remain on the plant, the rose puts energy into producing fruit and seed. If flowers are removed, the plant cannot produce seed and essentially tries again by producing more flowers. In a way, deadheading is used to trick the plant into flowering again.”

Blooms should be removed with sharp pruners when the petals begin to fall off. Make cuts at a 45 degree angle about a fourth of an inch above a leaf pair. How far the cane is pruned is a matter of judgment. A rule of thumb gardeners may want to keep in mind is to prune back to the first set of leaves that have five leaflets.

As you move from the cane tip, down the stem, leaves appear first in sets of three, then five and eventually seven. Using the number of leaves to guide pruning is a good rule of thumb and relates to cane size. Moving down the stem you’ll find it becomes larger. New growth will likewise be larger if it arises from a thicker portion of the stem.

“Keep in mind there are exceptions to the rule,” he said. “The first time a plant is deadheaded in a season, you may wish to cut back only to the first set of leaves, even if it has only three leaves, if there is not yet much new growth on a plant. In subsequent removals, gardeners can then cut back to the first set of five leaves.”

If there is excess growth and the plant becomes too tall or stems are too long, it is fine to cut farther back down the stem.

“It’s best to cut the stems back to an outward facing bud so new growth will be directed outward, keeping the center of the plant open,” Hillock said. “You want to be able to see all the beautiful new blooms on the plant.”


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Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
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Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078