Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Little Pinch Can Be a Good Thing

Question: I read instructions on a type of plant that said for stronger growth you should pinch off a part of the plant. What does that mean?

Answer: Usually, the plant in question will grow tall and even somewhat leggy if it is left unpinched. Tall, leggy plants tend to flop over and need staking besides being oftentimes less attractive. The term "pinch" can be confusing to gardeners who aren't familiar with it because to pinch a plant is not to pinch it literally. However, many plants have soft, succulent growth during the growing season that is easily nipped off by "pinching" it between one's thumb and forefinger (nice if the pruners are all the way back in the garage). However, you are actually intending to remove growth here not just pinch it.

When you remove growth, you promote branching. More branching will mean bushier, more compact plants that resist flopping and often look better than unpinched plants. For example, many people grow 'garden mums' (a.k.a. chrysanthemums) for fall color. Without pinching, these plants will bloom earlier in the season because pinching delays bloom (so no fall color) and they will often be tall and leggy and prone to flopping over. You don't always have to pinch back plants. Some are either bred to be compact and bushy or are naturally that way. (or sometimes the pinching is done for you as when our customers come and buy bushy, blooming garden mums in fall. We've already done all the necessary pinching.)

The schedule for this usually starts in late spring once the plant has about 4-5 inches of growth on it. At that point, the tips of the plant are "pinched back" to the next set of leaves. You let the plant branch and grow 4-5 more inches and pinch it again (just to the next set of leaves not all the way back). Usually, you pinch back around 3 to 4 times in a season. Around mid-July, one generally stops pinching (depends on the plant) and lets the plant continue to develop.

-Tina Mast, Communications Director

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