How to Deadhead Cockscomb and Celosia Flowers

Deadheadding is a popular method of pruning and allowing your flowers to return by removing dead flowers. Some flowers grow more in return when this is done, others don't. So should you deadhead your cockscomb flowers? Gardening and flower expert Taylor Sievers walks through if deadheading celosia and cockscomb is a good idea or not.

Pink Celosia Cockscomb in Garden

Nothing proves more cheerful than a punch of color in the landscape. Pack vivid color in with a funky, interesting shape and you’ve got celosia and cockscomb! These enthralling plants look like they’ve stepped straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, not to mention they provide long lasting color into the Fall and an interesting conversation piece in the home garden.

However, are you worried that your cockscomb is looking less than desirable in the middle of the season? Are all of your blooms fading in color and dropping little black seeds everywhere?

In this article I’ll share some tips on how to “deadhead” cockscomb or celosia so that you have long-lasting color and fresh blooms throughout the season! Let’s jump in and take a deeper look!

About Celosia

Pink Fuzzy Variety
With incredible vibrant colors and intriguing textures, these flowers are sure to impress in any garden.

Celosia species are warm-season annuals that thrive in well-draining sites situated in full sun. Pest and disease rarely bother these plants, and you’ll find that they’re prolific re-seeders in the garden as well. Once you’ve planted celosia/cockscomb, you’ll likely have volunteer seedlings pop up for years to come.

So, what’s the difference between cockscomb and celosia anyways?

There are three distinct shapes to the flower-heads of celosia that make up two different species in the Celosia genus, and these are C. argentea and C. spicata. The Celosia argentea species contains the cristata and plumosa varieties, while Celosia spicata houses the “wheat” varieties.

C. argentea var. cristata varieties (often called cockscomb) have fuzzy crests that are either fan-shaped or resemble a brain or coral. These come in many colors like orange, green, red, burgundy, rose, yellow, and even variegated (a mix of yellow and rose). C. argentea var. plumosa varieties look like feathery flames and come in all sorts of vibrant colors. Lastly, the C. spicata species resemble wheat stalks in shape with colors of rose, purple, salmon, orange, and creamy yellow.

Not only are the flowers multi-colored, but the leaves can range from bright green to deep reddish-purple, depending on the variety. Because of their range in color and their stellar resistance to pests and disease, these flowers are great in the landscape, in a pot, as a cut flower, and even in a dried flower arrangement or wreath come the holiday season!

What is Deadheading?

Close Up of Hundreds of Small Flowers
Removing the faded flowers allows you to extend your blooms.

So, what exactly is “deadheading”? If you’re new to gardening, you’ve probably heard this rather morbid word tossed about. The fact is, deadheading allows you to extend the bloom time of many of your garden plants. Deadheading is literally removing the “dead” or fading flowers from the plant. This signals the plant to push out more blooms.

Remember, a plant’s goal is always to reproduce. If you’re removing faded flowers, then the plant can’t set seed—which is its ultimate goal. So what does the plant do in response? It blooms again.

How to Deadhead Celosia or Cockscomb

Florist Cutting Leaves
Trimming your blooms is an easy process and can be done with a clean pair of garden snips or scissors.

After your celosia flowers have formed, you’ll notice that the whole flower head will begin to fade in color. In fact, your celosia may have already set seed (typically at the base of the flower head). Take a pair of snips and clip off the stem with the faded flower. You can do this really at any point of the stem, but you’ll want to make sure you leave at least a few sets of leaves.

I like to clip off the flower stalk at the joint where the stem or branch meets the main stem. The bud located in this axil between the side branch and main stem will then be stimulated to push out its own stem and flower. The deeper you cut into the plant, the more likely you’ll have a larger flower with a longer stem.

Deadheading celosia is really easy! Even if you think you’ve messed up, you’re probably fine. These plants are very forgiving.

Some people will deadhead because they don’t want their plant to set seed and potentially spread throughout their yard or garden, too.

As I mentioned before, there are a few different types of celosia. For the most part, deadheading will be the same, but there is one variety that will not put out any more blooms if you remove the flower head, and that is a variety of C. argentea var. cristata called the Bombay series.

These are pretty much one-and-done as far as blooming is concerned. Pinching when the plant is 6 to 8 inches tall typically will induce more branching and thus more flowers, which is why pinching is also a common practice amongst gardeners as well. But with this variety, it’s not recommended to pinch when they’re small.

Also, giant cockscomb varieties of the cristata species will oftentimes never be deadheaded. It takes a long time for the huge, brain-like crests to form. If you deadhead these too early, then you’ll never get to enjoy these giant beauties in all their glory.

When You Shouldn’t Deadhead

Fuzzy Fusia Flower
Be sure to plan ahead to decide what you need to do to ensure a happy and healthy garden.

There’s a few reasons why you may choose not to deadhead your celosia plants. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to deadheading, but you may want to keep these factors in mind.

If it’s Too Late in Season

Don’t worry about deadheading if it’s late in the season. Oftentimes there won’t be enough time for the plant to push out a new stem and flower after deadheading. Once the first frost in the Fall comes, your celosia/cockscomb will be done for the season. Unless you’re just looking to tidy your planting, there’s no reason to take the time to deadhead.

If You Are Wanting To Save Seed

If you’re wanting to save seed or want your celosia to reseed themselves, leave the flowers! Sometimes gardeners will deadhead their plants up until a certain point in the season (usually late Summer). The subsequent blooms after their last round of deadheading will then be allowed to flower and set seed.

Their Seeds Help Wildlife

Don’t deadhead some plants because their seeds will help feed wildlife. Some gardeners are avid nature-lovers and they like to leave flower seeds on the plant so that birds will have something to eat during early Winter. Cockscomb seeds are happily eaten by many different types of birds.

What to do with Deadheaded Celosia Blooms

Flowers for Drying on Counter
These beauties make great dried flower bouquets or wreaths.

Deadheaded celosia blooms can be repurposed! Celosia and cockscomb make great dried flowers because they retain their color for a long time after being dried. They also do not change much after drying in size (i.e. they don’t shrink).

Lay your deadheaded blooms on a screen or countertop to dry in a well-ventilated space away from direct sunlight. You may also bundle your blooms and hang them upside down in a dark, well-ventilated space.

After a week to two weeks, the celosia will start to feel dry and crunchy. Now they’re ready to be used! You can use dried celosia in your home for dried flower arrangements or in dried flower wreaths!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is deadheading the same as pinching?

No. Deadheading is the practice of removing damaged or faded flower blooms before the plant has set seed so that the plant puts out new stems and flowers. Pinching is the practice of clipping off the top portion of a plant or seedling to stimulate side shoot growth.

Pinching will oftentimes create a shorter, bushier plant with more blooms versus a taller, lankier plant with fewer blooms. Pinching is typically done when the plant is a seedling between 6 and 12 inches in height (depending on the plant). Deadheading is done after the plant has matured enough to bloom.

Can I cut back the whole plant rather than clipping individual blooms?

You can cut back your celosia plants to a point if it’s easier than clipping each individual stem. Sometimes this is done because you may have A LOT of plants and it would be labor intensive to deadhead each stem. Make sure to leave enough foliage on the plant that it will be able to recover from such hard pruning, as leaves are what will photosynthesize to create sugars that the plant can use to grow.

Can I collect seed from my deadheaded celosia flowers?

Celosia and cockscomb are actually not single flowers but rather a combination of hundreds of flowers on one flower head. Because of this, oftentimes the bottom florets will mature and set seed before the top florets have fully opened.

If you decide to save some of the deadheaded flowers, you may notice tiny black seeds that will fall from the flowers when the flower head is shaken. These seeds are usually viable and could be saved and planted the following Spring!

Final Thoughts

Deadheading is a super easy practice that every gardener should have in their gardening toolbox. By clipping off spent flowers, you’ll prolong the bloom time of your celosia/cockscomb plants so you can enjoy bright colors and funky, fuzzy crests for weeks on end.

Just remember, every practice in the garden must be purposeful. If you want more flowers, then you’ll need to deadhead, but if you want seeds to set or you want to feed wildlife, then you’ll need to leave the plant as it is! Always think ahead and your garden will, for the most part, be just as you want it to be.

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