Simplified and Lazy Maintenance for Easy Perennials
Many plants are beloved by our local finches and I have no objection to feeding these feathered creatures. So I leave the seed heads to develop and the birds strip them down for me. Once this is done, I cut the dead stems as close to the plant as possible. This works with nearly all the daisy family of plants.
Why deadhead? It does make the garden look better. When you clean out the dead flowers and stalks, the garden instantly looks cared for, neater and greener (you've just removed all the drab brown) and much brighter. So if the appearance of your garden is critical because it's out front, then keep it deadheaded. If it's in the back, feed the birds and trim off the dead stuff.
Do you have to do deadheading at all? No. There were several years when I was too busy to spend much time in the garden and it did quite nicely on its own. It didn't look as good as it might have looked had I spent time out there but it was still looked good if a little "wild".
What about plant health? You know I've written about how deadheading makes the garden healthier and I'm sure it does but health is a relative thing. The two years the garden was neglected from a maintenance standpoint didn't produce any long-term effects. I had a few extra weeds, a few extra seedlings here and there but nothing that showed up as a long-term health problem for the plants. So from my experience I will simply say that it stands to reason that if you take spent blooms and stems out of the garden, your garden will be better for it. But if you miss the odd stem or the odd plant or even the odd season, and you don't stress your garden with water or feed, it will be fine.
Bottom line: The garden, even easy perennials, will look significantly better if you deadhead. The garden is probably healthier if you deadhead.
But don't obsess over it. You're better off to do a little more weeding and control the grass and weed invaders than obsess over a few spent flowers.
Addendum to bottom line: When you have company coming, it's important to clean up the garden and do some deadheading. At least that's what I'm told by the better half.
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