Deadhead Your Spring Veggies

Gardener’s Notebook by Joshua Burman Thayer


Author Joshua Burman Thayer shows how to deadhead collards and arugula.


Spring is big this year. Those of us who ride with the seasonal tide of biomass (and even folks who rarely do more than look at it) are noting that the vertical explosion of spring 2023 is a true wonder. So, let’s talk about deadheading greens.

While the music of Jerry Garcia’s Grateful Dead reigns eternal in laid-back outdoor settings, in gardening parlance, to deadhead means to tip back or cut off the tips of edible greens.

Why do this?

Well, for the sake of your home-grown vegetables. Keeping your arugula or collards from going to flower slows down their life cycle and encourages them to continue making juvenile growth in the form of more yummy greens.

Why is this?

In nature, hungry browsers like deer and elk nibble on the herbaceous layer, trimming off the flower stalks and driving the new growth down toward a plant’s base. In this sense, a nibbled plant is being told to continue investing in new, tender green leaves. Conversely, a plant left to flower and fade will shift its focus to making seeds. Pithiness will come over the plant as the discontinuation of new green leaves is enacted. By deadheading, you can get an extra three to four weeks of spring greens.

Here’s how to deadhead your greens:

Use scissors (or your thumb and forefinger) to cut (or pinch) off the top three inches of your maturing arugula or the top inch of flower heads on your collards. You can toss those cuttings around beneath your longer-living heavy feeders like peas, beans, and fruit trees or take them into your kitchen to add to salads.

Happy Gardening!

Joshua Burman Thayer’s Gardener’s Notebook is filled with gardening advice for every season. Visit the whole collection of articles here.

Get expert help with your garden from Joshua Burman Thayer at 510.332.2809. Learn more about food forests and permaculture landscape design at and from Joshua Burman Thayer’s new book, Food Forests for First Timers.