How to Deadhead an Iris

A close-up of a wilting iris bloom.
What You'll Need
Garden shears
Cleaning solution for shears
What You'll Need
Garden shears
Cleaning solution for shears

An iris is a beautiful perennial flower that adds color and interest to any garden. There are tricks for maintaining your plant at its peak health, and one of these is to deadhead your iris when the flowers are past their bloom.

Why Deadhead?

Irises grow from large tuberous roots called rhizomes. Leaves and stalks rise from the root structure to form the visible part of the plant. You should remove the leaves if they look damaged or dying. Otherwise, they should be left alone. These leaves are necessary to bring light and nutrients to the roots.

The stalk can be left alone as well. However, this will result in your irises going to seed. This can be good if you want the seeds for something, but it takes a great deal of energy from the plant to create seeds. You can get additional irises more easily by dividing the rhizome every two or three years, so seeds are unnecessary.

Better to save your plants the effort and keep them stronger by removing the flowers before they seed. Additionally, irises that are not allowed to seed will grow larger rhizomes faster, which means you can divide them sooner.

How to Deadhead

Remove a flower that is past its blossom by simply grabbing it between your thumb and forefingers and snapping it off the stem. The flower should come off easily. However, be careful of the other buds. More than one bud can develop on a single stalk, and they may grow quite close together. Take care not to break off a new bud when you are removing a dead flower.

Should You Remove the Stalk?

The stalk itself can be left in place once the flowers are gone. The green surface is a source of photosynthesis for the plant, so it’s an extra energy source as long as there is nothing drawing energy from the top, like a seed pod.
However, some prefer to remove the stalk once the flowers on it have all died. This choice is a matter of appearance. Some feel removing the stalk makes the plant look tidier. If you remove the stalk, remove it near the rhizome.

How to Remove the Stalk

You can cut the stalk or snap it off. Again, there are several opinions as to what is best. Dirty shears can carry diseases from one plant to another, so if you intend to cut it, clean your shears in a proper solution before use. Snapping might damage the rhizome, opening it up to disease. Irises are hardy plants, so choose a method that feels right to you. Just remember to watch for disease in your irises. Hot weather is often a good time to do your cutting as the damaged location will dry up and scab over quickly.

If your iris is a reblooming iris, go ahead and remove the stalks if you prefer that look. The new bloom will develop on new stalks, so removing the old ones will not stop your iris from blooming again that season.