Dead-heading, pinching, and disbudding are the lightest and easiest gardening tasks and, therefore, are often given little priority. But dead-heading (removing the spent blossoms) makes plants more attractive and prolongs the blooming season. Pinching keeps plants from sprawling, reducing the need for stakes; and disbudding is a special technique that increases the size of flowers. For spectacular flowers, all three jobs should be done regularly.
Although the seedheads of some varieties, such as the stonecrop ‘Autumn Joy’, are as decorative as the flowers, some perennials look ragged and unkempt if the blooms are allowed to remain on the plant after they go to seed. Also, for most plants (particularly annuals), seed-making slows or stops the production of new flowers.
Dead-heading maintains the fresh look of spring and prolongs the blooming season and is easy: Just break or cut off the faded flowers and discard them. Weekly deadheading is sufficient for most plants. Some perennials that produce many flowers each day—for example, Shasta daisy, daylily, and coreopsis—require dead-heading almost every day to look their best.
Pinching is a very light form of pruning; only the very tips of the shoots are removed. To pinch a plant, grasp the very tip of each shoot between your thumb and forefinger and break it off with a downward twist. When pinched, a plant responds by branching, becoming more compact and floriferous.
Plants that tend to sprawl should be pinched once in the spring. Repeated pinchings can destroy the form of a plant, turning it into a topiary blob of color. Garden mums (varieties of Chrysanthemum x morifolium) are an exception—they elongate so rapidly without branching that they need to be pinched several times during the growing season to keep them full and bushy.
Disbudding is the selective removal of flower buds, which allows the remaining flowers to grow larger. Disbudding is usually practiced only by commercial growers of chrysanthemums, long-stemmed roses, and carnations. Gardeners who want to grow large flowers may disbud to make their plants produce the huge blossoms found in commercial flower shops.
Many plants produce a flower bud at the end of each stem (the terminal bud), then several more buds at the sides of the same stem (lateral buds). The terminal bud opens first, followed by the lateral buds.
To disbud a plant, pinch out the lateral flower buds as soon as they become large enough to grasp between your fingers. To avoid tearing the stem, twist the buds as you snap them downward or use your fingernails to cut them as you twist. This channels all the energy from that stem into the single remaining bud.