On a sunny afternoon with a couple of hours to kill, I decided to deadhead the roses. I learned how to do this at a Master Gardeners demonstration where I discovered how much I didn't know about roses. Before the demonstration, I just cut off the dead rose blossoms and trimmed back bothersome branches. Now, I know the differences between stems and canes as well as leaves, leaflets and bracts. Heck, I even know what a rose hip looks like.
Removing spent blooms, otherwise known as deadheading, makes the rose bush produce more flowers. Normally, spent blooms become the fruit of the plant which is called a rose hip. Through deadheading, the plant conserves energy normally spent producing fruit, thus producing more blooms instead. That's the easy part.
What complicates the matter is that there is a difference of opinion about the best method of deadheading. The old rule of thumb is to cut just above the first outward facing leaf with five leaflets on it. Did you know that the clusters of leaflets make up a single leaf, and that these compound leaves can have two to seven or more leaflets on them? Who knew?
However, new trials have shown that the more foliage a rose plant bears the more blooms it puts out. So the new rule of thumb is to cut just above the first tiny leaflets below the bloom. These are called bracts because they don't actually form a compound leaf. Confused yet?
So which rule is right? Well, that depends. The new one seems to produce more blooms, but smaller flowers. The old one produces fewer blooms, but larger and showier flowers. It would appear, then, that neither one is right for all situations. Yet if you ask any seasoned gardener how to deadhead roses, I bet you'll get a single, definitive answer.
It's just like the rest of life. Tax increase or spending cut? Privatization or nationalization? Black and white or shades of gray? Immovable or willing to compromise? It just depends on the outcome you want: fewer big, showy flowers or more abundant smaller ones.