By Joel Klann
The practice of removing spent flowers—deadheading—keeps peonies healthy for future blooming and growth
Work groups dedicated to maintaining the beauty of the Nichols Arboretum peony garden have once again committed themselves to help complete a great task: deadheading all 700+ plants.
It seems like only days ago that the first few plants in the garden were beginning to show signs that that they would soon reveal their annual display of vibrant color and intricate patterns, and now all of a sudden, bloom season has passed, the party is over, and cleanup has already begun. In order to contain the mess from plants which have completed their flowering cycle this season—and to avert the maturation of seeds which could result in stray plants—volunteers, interns, and staff have cut and collected upwards of 35,000 flower heads! Deadheading the vast collection of peonies at Nichols Arboretum is a tedious chore, but a necessary one.

Cutting lower down on the stem hides the cut and looks neater

More deadheading

Spent blooms left on the plant give it an untidy appearance and make the plant invest more energy into seed production

A nicely managed peony. Now the plant can put its energies into root growth.

The task of deadheading is a rather straightforward operation on all plants that involves removing decaying flowers which have completed their bloom cycle. Using sharpened pruners, make a cut anywhere you wish below the blossom, likely near the foliage so that the snipped shoot can blend in with the plant.
Not only does deadheading help keep plant matter from being dispersed chaotically throughout the garden, it also aids the health of the plant. Much of the energy of the plant goes into seed production, and by eliminating that stage of development, the plant can conserve energy and divert it into root development and growth instead. This creates a hardier plant more suited for future survival. Many of our own peonies have remained in the garden for generations, and it is not inconceivable this practice has played a significant role in that. The doctored peony plants will remain until October, at which point they will be cut down to within inches of the ground. They will remain dormant through the winter as they prepare for their re-emergence next spring.

Guest post by Joel Klann. Joel, who is from Detroit, MI, is a senior majoring in political science in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts with a Program in the Environment minor. Joel works for Matthaei-Nichols staff member Adrienne O’Brien.

Joel Klann