Deadheading and Pinching The First Flowers on Annuals

Jul 14, 2019 | Gardens

I know that this is hard for many people. The annuals you’ve planted early in the summer are finally starting to put out their first flowers, and some gardener like me tells you to cut those off immediately. “What?” you think… “I’m supposed to get rid of the color I’ve been waiting three weeks for?” Yes. Do it.

Annuals are on a mission to create seeds for the future, and the flowers are the first step in fulfilling that goal. But your goal is to have as many flowers in the brief summer season as possible. So your job is to say to that plant, “Not so fast! You have to make many, many more flowers before you make seeds.” and the first step in conveying that message is to cut off that first flower. This will prompt the plant to produce more stems and become bushier, which will also lead to more flowers. Win win, I say…more color for you and more opportunities for creating seeds for the plant.

Here are photos from my Annual Alley that prove the point.

On the fourth of July my annual alley flowers were just starting to bloom. Cut and Come Again Zinnias, Blue Horizon Ageratum, Tall Red Salvia, and Gomphrena ‘Cosmic Flare’ are putting out their first flowers. So why am I telling you to cut these off?

On July 4th I cut all those first flowers off so that the plants will be encouraged to bush out and flower even more. Yes, for a week I have a border that is all green. It’s worth it.

On July 13th you can see that the plants have not only filled out and become wider,  but have started to flower again. 

On the other end of the border you can see the same…nine days later the plants are twice as wide and beginning to flower. From now on I’ll cut the flowers off as they fade and that too will encourage the plants to continue to make more blooms.

Don’t be afraid…cut those first annual flowers off! Just do it.


Update on July 21st. Here is how my garden looked last night – you can see that 16 days after pinching the plants have gotten wider and bushier…and the sunflowers have started blooming!


  1. Carole Dorsky

    Thank you for the info !!!

  2. Christine Abel

    Thanks for this great article!useful info! Will share!

  3. Rebecca Turbeville

    I see the wisdom , but my question is why can’t I just cut them for a bouquet? Is there a reason you just only cut the flower head off and leave the stem attached in the plant?

    • CL Fornari

      A great question, Rebecca. Early in the summer the stems on these annuals haven’t lengthened very much. So if I cut even a 3 or 4 inch stem for putting them into small vases I’d also be, in most cases, removing the two flower buds below the top one. So these could be put in tiny vases if you’d like, or floated in a bowl of water. I get the same pleasure from seeing the colorful cuttings in the basket, and I know that I’ll have dozens of bouquet flowers with longer stems by the end of July. In fact, I’ll update the blog now with a photo from today, the 21st of July.


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