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Deadheading: When, how and why

Published June 20, 2014

URBANA, Ill.  - As with any profession, there are terms known and understood only by the “professionals,” said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Auto mechanics and computer technicians seem to speak their own language,” said Martha Smith. “I came to realize so do gardeners, as was pointed out by a friend when I nonchalantly said her flowers should be ‘deadheaded.’ This is beyond the Latin thing, which many feel is just a horticulturist showing off, but actually is to clarify exactly what is being discussed. There are terms such as pinching, disbudding, stippling, and deadleafing that really can be confusing.”

Deadheading is removing old flowers. It also can involve removing foliage to improve the appearance of the plant. “Consider the lovely tall bearded iris. This perennial can have two to four blooms along its stem in May. As they finish flowering, they go from stunning to mush-on-a-stem.

“Hand pick each flower as it finishes to improve the appearance. Once all have bloomed, cut the stem back to the basal foliage,” she said. 

The popular daylily (Hemerocallis sp.) is another flower that looks so much better deadheaded. Daylilies can have four to eight buds in a cluster at the end of a flower scape (another word that many may not be familiar with – flower stalk). As the name suggests, each flower blooms for a day. 

“It would be so polite of this plant if the old flowers simply dropped off but, no, we need to deadhead and individually remove the old flowers,” Smith explained. “Once they have all bloomed out you cut out the flower scape. Don’t forget annual plants, as well. Remove old geranium, marigold, and gazania flowers and you will again have a full blooming plant.”

There are other plants that bloom in a flurry with many flowers covering the plant. Threadleaf coreopsis is an example. Sunny yellow flowers cover the plant for three to five weeks starting in June. Once they are bloomed out, simply lop off the flowers with sheers, plus about 3 to 5 inches of growth (depending on cultivar). This may seem a bit bold but the plant will respond with a flush of new crisp foliage and usually a second flush of flowering – though not as prolific as the first flush, Smith said.

Other plants such as Speedwell (Veronica sp.), perennial Salvia, or Spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.) often look haggard after they bloom as the heat of summer kicks in. ‘Silver Mound’ Artemesia often breaks open and looks so sad. Clean up these plants simply by deadheading after bloom but also removing most of the foliage. Cutting back to basal growth to 4 to 5 inches may leave an open spot in your garden temporarily, but these plants will respond and reward you with compact clean growth.

“Another advantage to removing old flowers and foliage is preventing seed production,” she said.  “Not only does this take energy from overall plant growth, but with some plants this can be a source of re-seeding. Purple coneflower (Echinacea sp.) is known to reseed. Deadhead and you eliminate this issue. But, if you want to attract birds to your garden, then let the flowers remain and don’t complain when you have little coneflowers throughout the garden.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

New planned swine research unit will allow more research on infant nutrition and cognition

Published June 19, 2014
Ryan Dilger, a U of I assistant professor of nutrition, studies learning and memory in piglets, and how nutrition affects brain development. Photo by Stephanie Henry, University of Illinois.

URBANA, Ill. – A substantial gift for a new biomedical swine research unit at the University of Illinois will increase capability for research regarding learning and memory in young pigs with the goal of understanding how nutrition affects brain development in human infants.

Mead Johnson Nutrition, maker of Enfamil infant formula, awarded the $945,000 gift to Ryan Dilger, a U of I assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences, to fund the new facility.

“The University of Illinois was chosen because of its truly unique combination of state-of-the-art neuroscience technology and long-standing history of dedication to pediatric nutrition research that includes the use of translational agrimedical research models,” said Brian Berg, a research scientist at Mead Johnson. 

Dilger said the new unit, set to be in place in early 2015, will enhance the ability of researchers to make new discoveries in cognitive development by using behavior to measure brain function.

“Basically, this gift is to develop new research infrastructure and increase our capabilities in testing how nutrition affects brain development,” Dilger said. “In the past, we have looked at such things as iron deficiency and its effects on learning and memory, and this gift will allow us to develop next-generation tools to test how early-life nutrition relates to brain function in an animal model that closely approximates developmental processes in humans.”

In coordination with other U of I researchers, including Sharon Donovan and Rod Johnson, Dilger has used animal models for studying human brain development in his research over the last several years. “Sharon, Rod, and I use the young pig as a biomedical research subject, with a major research focus on pediatric nutrition, immunology, and brain development. It took several years to develop the piglet model into its current state, and now we are taking it to the next level,” he said.

Current facilities have allowed Dilger and his lab to raise and monitor 24 pigs at a time from birth. The new, high through-put facility will provide the space and technology to work with 48 pigs at a time, with greater control over nutrient delivery and video monitoring of piglet behavior. An automated liquid feeding system, continuous video monitoring, and specialized testing and observation spaces, will allow the unit to run more efficiently.

The spearhead project in the new unit will test learning and memory through eye-blink conditioning studies. Young pigs will learn to associate a noise with a gentle puff of air blown into their eyes (much like the glaucoma test performed on humans at the eye doctor). Tests like these allow researchers to determine how dietary or environmental factors affect learning and memory. “Behavior remains as the most functional outcome for how the brain is working, just as with nutrition, we use growth as a global indicator of adequate nutrient supply,” he said.

Dilger explained that as young animals and humans consume a complete and nutritious diet, they grow well. “Here we ask, what is the optimal behavioral performance, in this case learning and memory, and is that function amenable to nutritional intervention? Then we can use cellular and molecular techniques to determine exactly how the relationship between nutrition and brain function works,” he said.

In an identical manner to human infants, specific regions of the piglet brain will mature over time and produce functional readouts measured in the behavioral task. Therefore, pigs will be able to acquire the task, learning when they hear the tone to close their eyes, Dilger said.

“We are quantifying how nutrients and bioactive components found in breast milk impact cognitive development, and whether similar effects can be achieved if these components are included in infant formula. The infant formula industry’s primary goal is to advance optimal infant nutrition. Thus, there is primary interest in aligning the nutrient profiles of breast milk and infant formula to help infants receive the best start in life,” he added.

“Nutrition has come a long way. We’ve basically identified all the nutrients and what happens in growth and metabolism if we have a deficiency. However, we understand less about whether improper nutrition causes long-term effects on the brain, and this is a serious problem globally as far as the effects micronutrient deficiencies have on short-term and long-term memory. Thus, we’re interested in studying nutrition during the late prenatal and early postnatal periods, and what effects this has on long-term cognitive development,” he said.

For more information on research from Dilger’s lab, visit

Kids with strong bonds to parents make better friends, can adapt in difficult relationships

Published June 19, 2014
two preschoolers hand-in-hand

URBANA, Ill. – What social skills does a three-year-old bring to interactions with a new peer partner? If he has strong bonds to his parents, the child is likely to be a positive, responsive playmate, and he’ll be able to adapt to a difficult peer by asserting his needs, according to a new University of Illinois study published in Developmental Psychology.

“Securely attached children are more responsive to suggestions or requests made by a new peer partner. A child who has experienced a secure attachment relationship with caregivers is likely to come into a new peer relationship with positive expectations,” said Nancy McElwain, a U of I professor of human development.

In the study, the researchers assessed the security of child-mother attachment relationships for 114 children at 33 months, and parents reported on their child’s temperament, including anger proneness and social fearfulness. At 39 months, children of the same gender were randomly paired with one another and observed over three laboratory visits in a one-month period.

Securely attached kids were more responsive to a new peer partner the first time they met, even if the new child was prone to anger. Kids with secure attachments continued to respond favorably on the second and third visits when the peer partner’s anger was low—but not when the other child’s anger was high, the researcher said.

When a child is paired with a peer who is quick to become frustrated or angry, the positive social expectations of a child with a secure attachment are likely not met. The securely attached child may then adapt to the situation and dampen his responsiveness to the challenging partner, McElwain said.

“A more securely attached child was also likely to use suggestions and requests rather than commands and intrusive behavior (such as grabbing toys away) during play with an anger-prone peer during the first two visits. By the final visit, a child with a secure attachment had adjusted to the controlling assertiveness of her anger-prone partner by becoming more controlling herself,” she said.

The study showed that a child’s level of attachment security, their partner’s tendency to become angry, and how well the children knew each other (earlier vs. later visits) combined to predict a child’s behavior.

“Behavior toward a peer partner depended on the partner’s temperament as much as the child’s own attachment. Consideration of both factors in combination is needed to understand a child’s behavior toward a new peer,” McElwain said.

The child’s own temperament also played a role in understanding her behavior toward new peer partners. Children whose parents described them as socially fearful were less assertive overall, she noted.

“But don’t confuse a difficult temperament with an insecure attachment. You may have a fussy infant, but if you respond to him sensitively, he will develop a strong bond with his parents and will likely go on to enjoy positive, close relationships with others,” she said.

“Getting Acquainted: Actor and Partner Effects of Attachment and Temperament on Young Children’s Peer Behavior” is available online at Developmental Psychology at .

Authors include the U of I’s McElwain and Brian G. Ogolsky, Jennifer M. Engle of Vanderbilt University, and Ashley S. Holland of Edgewood College. Funding was provided by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Research Board.




College of ACES Paul A. Funk Recognition, Deans Office Awards Banquet

5:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Pear Tree Estate 2150 County Road 1000E (Dewey-Fisher Rd.) Champaign, IL 61822 ph: (217) 643-2074

Each spring the College recognizes the contributions of our faculty, staff, and graduate students through the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and Paul A. Funk Recognition Awards. These awards honor individuals who have demonstrated outstanding achievements or exceptional service to the College.


Award of Merit Luncheon

All Day Event

The College of ACES Alumni Association will host up to five ACES Award of Merit winners on campus.  This award is the highest alumni award given to an ACES alumni.  Winners will be engaged in a campus visit, a luncheon and the College of ACES Funk Banquet.


Student Awards Banquet

All Day Event
Time and location TBD

IBRL Groundbreaking

2:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Ag Engineering Building, 1304 W Pennsylvania Ave. Urbana, IL 61801

Reception following will be held in the Heritage Room, ACES LIAC, 1101 S. Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801