Not all begonias produce flowers, but those that do delight us with their clusters of showy blooms. Those who have been gardening for some time know that most flowering plants must be deadheaded to keep them blooming. What about begonias?
Begonias do not need deadheading because they are known to “self-clean,” meaning that they shed spent flowers. However, deadheading prolongs the flowering period by encouraging budding and blooming. As flowers start to wither, the plant redirects its energy from producing blossoms to setting seeds.
Knowing how deadheading benefits the begonia plant and adds dollops of color to your container, porch, or garden bed will encourage you to carry out this tedious task. In this article, I will also explain how to deadhead without accidentally damaging the stems.
- Self-Cleaning Nature: Begonias naturally shed spent flowers, making deadheading unnecessary for the plant’s survival. However, deadheading can still offer significant benefits.
- Deadheading Prolongs Flowering Season: Deadheading begonias speeds up budding and blooming, prolonging the flowering period. It redirects the plant’s energy from seed production to flower generation, reducing the gap between flowering cycles.
- Aesthetic and Health Benefits: Removing spent flowers enhances the plant’s appearance, giving it a tidy, rejuvenated look. It can also make the plant more resilient to diseases and fungal attacks.
- Encourages Bushy Growth: Deadheading promotes lateral branching, leading to a fuller, bushier appearance. This technique is particularly effective for preventing legginess in plants with insufficient light.
- Vibrant Display: Regular deadheading ensures a continuous bloom, adding color to your space throughout the summer and fall.
- Deadheading Technique: Proper deadheading involves cutting or pinching the stem below the spent flower and above the first set of healthy leaves, using clean and sterilized tools. This method encourages bushier growth and prevents damage to the plant.
- Care Without Deadheading: If you choose not to deadhead, ensure the begonias are kept in partial shade, the soil remains moist but not soggy, and the plants are fed regularly. Also, control pests to maintain healthy growth.
Why Deadhead Begonias?
Some gardeners may wonder why they need to deadhead begonias because almost all varieties “self-clean” and re-bloom.
While that’s a valid argument, deadheading is highly recommended because it has the following benefits:
It Speeds Up Budding and Blooming
Deadheading speeds up budding and blooming in begonias and prolongs the flowering season.
The goal of a plant is to ensure the survival of the species. A flowering plant sets seeds after blooming to reproduce. This is part of its natural life cycle. If you do not deadhead spent flowers, the plant expends its energy in producing seeds.
When you snip off the spent flowers, seedheads do not develop, and the plant forms more blossoms to produce more seeds (its primary evolutionary objective).
Although begonias do not have to be deadheaded, you can induce flowering by snipping off the spent flowers. Deadheading also prolongs the blooming season by reducing the gap between two rounds of flowering.
It Keeps the Plant Looking Tidy
Spent flowers look haggard and limp. They give a plant an untidy and unkempt appearance.
When you deadhead, you tidy up the plant. Your begonia plant perks up instantly when you cut the limp and spent flowers.
Just be sure not to dump the cut flowers in the potting container. A mass of dead flowers crowding at the base of the plant will still make the plant look untidy and invite pests and fungal growth.
It Gives Your Begonia Plants a Bushy Look
Too little light makes begonia stems grow tall and lanky. Besides looking ungainly, leggy stems tend to flop under their weight and eventually break.
Deadheading encourages lateral branching and gives your plant a fuller and bushier look. Every stem you pinch out gives rise to two new branches on the side.
For optimal branching, shear back leggy stems till they are just a few inches tall.
It Adds Color to Your Space in Summer and Fall
A profusely-blooming begonia can be a great way to add color to a bed, patio, or parlor if you live in an area where the summers are brutal or the winters are long.
Deadheading regularly keeps the flowers coming even during late summer when most plants are wilting or the depths of fall when plants are shedding leaves and preparing to go into dormancy.
It May Make Your Begonia Plant More Resilient
According to some experienced gardeners, the second blooms that appear after deadheading usually last longer than their predecessors.
Deadheading also makes your begonias more resilient to diseases and fungal attacks. That’s because some energy that would have been spent on producing seeds is now channeled into building strength and resistance to diseases.
How Do You Properly Deadhead?
Cut off or pinch the stem about ½ inch (1.27 cm) below the spent flower and above the first set of healthy leaves with your thumb and index finger or a pair of sterile shears. Deadhead spent blossoms on the plant, taking care not to snip off unopened buds.
Keep the following tips in mind when deadheading begonias:
- Use clean and disinfected scissors. This ensures you don’t introduce pathogens. Sterilize your cutting and pruning tools by dipping them in a bleach solution. When using your fingers, make sure to wash with soap and water beforehand.
- Check for unopened buds tucked in between the leaves before deadheading.
- Water your begonias thoroughly before deadheading. The plant loses some moisture when you deadhead or prune it. A water-starved plant may not be able to handle the stress of deadheading and pruning.
- Cut down to the first set of healthy leaves to encourage bushier growth. Do not cut just the spent flower. If you snip off only the spent flower on a leggy stem, the visible stem will still look lanky even after new lateral branches appear.
- Consider cutting back some leggy stems instead of only deadheading to encourage bushier growth.
- Deadhead every one to three days, especially when the begonias are growing actively in summer, so you remain on top of the task.
- Start deadheading early in the season and continue till late to prolong the blooming season.
- Do not let the spent flowers drop below the plant into the container because the decomposing and mushy organic matter can attract gray mold, which then spreads to the plant.
- Apply fertilizer or compost after you prune or deadhead to support your begonia as it prepares to put out new growth.
- Stop deadheading as the weather gets colder. Pruning and deadheading to force flowering when the days and nights are cool stress out the plant. Your begonias will stop flowering and go dormant when temperatures drop. This period of dormancy is critical for the begonia plant to store energy and prepare for a fresh burst of growth the following spring.
Caring for Begonias Without Deadheading
Your begonias will still bloom even if you don’t deadhead them regularly or don’t deadhead them at all. They will clean up after themselves.
If you don’t deadhead spent flowers, you might want to support and enhance flowering by:
Keep the Begonias in Partial Shade
All begonias wilt when exposed to the scorching sun. Keep your plants in a location where they receive 4-6 hours of the morning sun while being shielded from the afternoon sun.
If your begonias are indoors, shield them from the sun during the hottest part of the day by drawing the curtains of a south- or west-facing window. Indoor begonias thrive when you keep them near an east-facing window, especially if you live in an area with hot summers.
Keep the Soil Moist
Begonia plants cut back on flowering when they are too dry or too wet, so keep the soil slightly moist but not soggy. Begonias are stressed by dry conditions, but they do not like wet feet either.
Water at the base of the plant and just above the soil level. Do not water the leaves because wet leaves attract mold and pests.
Regularly check the moisture in the soil and adjust your watering schedule. To do that, poke your finger about 2 inches (5 cm) into the soil about 3-5 days after watering your plant. If the soil feels damp to the touch, wait a day or two before watering.
You’re probably underwatering your plants or the soil has poor moisture retention if it dries out too soon.
Feed Them Regularly
Well-fed begonias bloom well whether you deadhead them or not.
Feed your plants a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer at the time of the planting and switch it up with a 5-15-10 fertilizer every 2-3 weeks throughout their blooming period.
I highly recommend using liquid fertilizer because it’s convenient to apply to indoor plants. But if that’s not available, balanced granular fertilizer will do.
Whatever fertilizer type you use, ensure it’s not high in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen encourages leafy growth at the expense of flowers.
Last but not least, refer to the dosage instructions on the package and use half the recommended strength. Too much of a good thing can be harmful, and excess fertilizer can burn the plant and reduce flowering.
Caterpillars and earwigs love to munch on begonia leaves and flowers, so make a habit of inspecting both sides of the leaves to check for these insects. If you find any, pluck them out manually using tweezers and use an organic pesticide like neem oil to keep them away.
Also, ensure that you do not keep the soil overly wet or splash water on the leaves when watering. Swampy soil conditions and wet leaves attract pests, fungi, and mold that can wreak havoc on your plants.
Learn more about how to induce and prolong blooming in begonias in my article here: Begonias All Leaves and No Flowers? Here’s Why
Deadheading is a chore most gardeners abhor. Fortunately, your begonia plant will continue to bloom even if you don’t deadhead it, albeit not as profusely as when you snip away the spent flowers.
We grow begonias for their pretty flowers. The greatest advantage of deadheading begonias is that it prolongs the flowering season and adds swathes of color to your growing space well into late summer and early fall when other flowering plants are past their prime.