By Heidi Bornhorst
Q: What is deadheading and which Hawaii plants would benefit?
A: Deadheading is where you remove spent flowers to increase blooming and benefit the health of the plant.
Pua Keni Keni comes to mind, as cutting or snapping off the green and orange “balls”, AKA the developing fruit, will increase blooming.
Fruit formation and seed development take a lot of time and energy for the plant, just like a woman being pregnant.
So, if we want more flowers, don’t let the fruit form. In the case of Pua Keni Keni, the fruit on the stems makes for great décor in a flower arrangement. You can even string the “balls” into lei, as my akamai lei making buddy Dede Replinger Sutherland does.
Tiare or Tahitian gardenia nowadays needs deadheading. We didn’t use to have a pollinator for Tiare but now it seems we do, as the old flower calyces (the bottom green part of the flower) don’t fall off after blooming. They now form fruit and it takes about a year to fully develop and form mature seeds inside.
We need to snap off that part on a daily or weekly basis or Tiare plants will have fruit developing and fewer blooms.
Tiare buds make an epic lei, that can last for several days or nights with a most heavenly perfume. When you pick the buds, pick the calyx too and save yourself some time and energy.
My friend Donna Chuck has a prolific and sunny garden with many flowers for lei. She collects the Tiare buds and stores them carefully in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel in the fridge until she has enough for a special lei for a special someone.
We spent some time cleaning up and deadheading her plants and now she gets way more Tiare flowers for her lei creations.
I first learned the word and horticultural practice known as deadheading when I was an apprentice Gardener at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, in my junior year of college.
‘Go deadhead the Rhodies’, I was instructed by the Horticulturist at Longwood.
I wondered if it was something about the Grateful Dead; and had to ask what was deadheading and what are Rhodies?
Rhodies are Rhododendrons, related to the Azaleas that we grow here. They bloomed massively in spring there and general good garden practice was to deadhead them in early summer, to promote lots of blossoms for the following Spring show.
Some use sharp needle-nose clippers for this and some use sharp well-placed fingers and thumbnails to snap off the spent blooms.
Roses are another plant that will bloom better if you deadhead, or you can just harvest and use every flower. Or you can let the fruit develop and you get rose hips which can be made into jam or tea.
Some kinds of Hibiscus, especially our fragrant native white Koki`o ke`o ke`o will form seed pods if you let them. This is how early gardeners made new hybrids as they found the native Hawaiian whites were excellent “mother” plants.
Again, if you want blossoms, pluck off and clean up the old flowers. Another benefit to this is we have lots of recent alien insect pests like scale and mealybugs that love to hide in the developing seed pods and suck sap and juices from the plants.
Deadheading helps you groom your plants, so you can rub off or cut off the pest-infested parts. Get rid of insect eggs and small sap suckers before they form a full-on infestation.