Be diligent about pinching back certain plants

June 11, 2014
After any pruning or pinching back be sure to water your plants and perhaps apply a weak liquid organic fertilizer.

Drive too fast and you may get “pinched” by the police. Pinch a few candies without paying. Fill in for a friend and you are a pinch hitter. And in the garden no need to be a penny pincher, but still, we all want value from our plants, and you can do that with some pinching.

In the garden, pinching is removing the growing tip of a plant using your thumb and forefinger. You can also use sharp pruners or garden shears to cut back the tips.

This encourages your plant to sprout from several latent side buds. These are the tiny growth buds formed at the node, or point on the stem where the leaf is attached. In the case of flowers, pinching back gives more blooms, and with some leafy herbs such as basil, you get more edible leaves.

If you plant seeds directly in the garden, wait to pinch them back once they are three to four inches tall. If you are setting out transplants, then pinch them back immediately after planting.

Not all plants should be pinched back. Some annuals that grow one central stalk should never be pinched back, such as celosia, stock, balsam and poppy.

Others benefit greatly from pinching. To prevent tall or “leggy” plants, pinch back flowering plants such as fuchsias, calendula, zinnia, petunia, pinks (Dianthus chinensis), geraniums, cosmos, snapdragon, marigold, and just about any other annual with a few exceptions.

Pinch your plants while they are still very small.

Once your plants are filled out, you may still need to cut them back. Often fast-growing plants send up long, straggly shoots and become “leggy,” and only flower on the ends of the stems.

Cut back to a healthy set of leaves next to the main stalk, and your plants will again send out new shoots and you will have a bushy plant.

Chrysanthemums often need to be pinched back well before fall so they too will be denser, bushier and have more blooms. Pinch them back as they grow so you don’t take too much off of them at one time.

Another use of pinching is to remove flowers from plants such as sage so that the plant continues to produce leaves. Herbs lose much of their potency if allowed to flower. Lettuce gets bitter when it blooms, so keep any sign of a flower spike removed, The sooner you pinch leafy vegetable flowers, the better.

After any pruning or pinching back be sure to water your plants and perhaps apply a weak liquid organic fertilizer.

So keep pinching back annuals, especially any blossoms on herbs, and your garden will be fuller and bushier than ever. Some small stems such as basil may not be enough to season very much but, dare we say they will do in a pinch.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.