no, this is not about fans of the grateful dead. but i know one such fan (ahem, you know who you are) who also “deadheads” her tulips.

deadheading is pruning or removing the flower after it has wilted. this is done to encourage more flower growth through the season, or to improve the appearance and health of the plant for the next growing season.

in the case of tulips, sadly, they only bloom once a season. but my how they bloom!

remember these beauties?

well, this is what they look like today…

i wish blogs had sound effects, because right now you’d be hearing that sad, “Wa-waa” sound (not waa as in crying or whining; more like the one that sounds like a sad trombone playing two tones from a minor scale. anyone?)

“deadheading” can be done when the petals are still on and have only wilted, as in the faded red tulips above. but i usually wait until after all the petals have fallen off…

this is the part i cut off, just snapping it between my fingers:

the thinking behind deadheading tulips is that when the petals fall off, the seed pod remains on the stalk. the plant uses a lot of nutrients from the soil to maintain the seed pod, which is the reproductive organ of the plant. you’ll also notice that the seed pod is green, which means it undergoes photosynthesis*, a process that uses up a lot of energy. removing the seed pod allows the plant to store the energy and nutrients in the bulb.

* to learn more than you’ve ever wanted to know about photosynthesis, read more about it here on wikipedia.

now, how about those leaves and stalks? cut them back now, or wait for them to die?

well, the jury is out on this one. some insist on cutting them back while they are still green. others let them turn yellow and dry out naturally, then cut them back when no green remains or when they are completely dried out.

if you wait long enough for them to completely dry out, a simple tug usually separates the stem and leaves from the bulb which remains undisturbed below the earth. i only know this because this is what i do with my tulips. they come up year after year, often larger and more numerous than the year before. but i’m sure others who have different techniques enjoy similar results.

i have read that when the leaves and stem are allowed to die naturally, the nutrients from photosynthesis are stored in the root. i admit though, it’s not much fun looking at dead and wilted vegetation in an otherwise lush garden. it’s like that in-between stage when you’re trying to grow out your hair. you know you really need a haircut, it’s too long to manage, but not long enough to put it in a pony tail or style otherwise. but persevere through the awkward phase, it’s worth it! ;-)

some people weave or braid the dying leaves (no really, i read it on the interweb, it must be true!). others plant hostas or colourful annuals around the base of tulips to hide this growth. me, i just endure it til they’re dead dead dead. because waiting for them to turn yellow and dry out is nothing compared to the wait for spring when you’re in the thick of a long canadian winter!

drop me a line and let me know what you do with your tulips as they wilt.

in the meantime, i’m going to enjoy my last remaining tulip bloom…

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14 Responses to deadheads…

  1. Corey says:

    Am I the deadheading Deadhead or do you know two of us? ;) Ana, it is freaky to read this because I was JUST daydreaming about this yesterday, thinking of a funny way to explain how deadheading doesn’t have anything to do with the Guys in case anyone asked. LOL Great minds…

    Since you asked, I wait until my tulips start to look a little bedraggled then I test them. I cup each one in my hand and gently pull up. If the petals are still firmly attached I don’t force them. If they fall apart in my hand I sprinkle the petals at the base of the plants to return to the earth on their own. Once the whole bunch is done I use a serrated knife to take them off at ground level then throw them on the compost pile.

  2. Nancy S says:

    I cut ‘em back when I get sick of looking at them. That occurs somewhere between somewhat green and totally dessicated. Other, livelier flowers will cover the dying daffs up but when the universal dieback begins (late July – early Aug, we have very dry summers here) I usually go on a rampage and tear it all out. Then the bed looks empty all late summer and winter but, lo and behold, they all come back every spring. I never thought to just pull the reproductive part off (yeouch!), I may try that first and see if the leaves hold out longer.

  3. ZebraBelly says:

    I totally get your “wa-waa” sound effect. There MUST be an online resource for that somewhere. Here’s an instant rimshot, just in case you ever need that.

  4. zentMRS says:

    I don’t grow tulipcs every year, but I do have a lot of lilies, and have wondered about this exact thing. In fact, I was looking at my green stems last night trying to decide if I should cut the stems back or let them grow.

    Thnaks for the tips!

  5. Selena says:

    I’m going to show my dh this post. He does the strangest thing with plants. He ties them in a knot. They look just plain silly. Please tell me that this isn’t the correct way to deal with these :-)

    • iMadeItSo says:

      hi selena, i mentioned that i read about people “braiding” and tying the dead leaves … but i’ve never seen it. you’ll have to get dh to share a photo of that!

  6. 2much2luv says:

    I heard the “Wa-waaa” before you said it, so I am right there with ya.

  7. Ott, A says:

    Great advise on deadheading. i deadhead all the annuals in my flower pots on a weekly basis to keep them sending up new flower buds. Works like a charm, but I couldn’t have explained it as well as you.

  8. I usually let my tulips go brown before I remove the dead stems, but that’s not by any design. Usually because that’s about the time it stops raining around here. ;-) Glad you’re enjoying the Tuesday Garden Party- I have fun with it too!

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