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How Pinching Plants Benefits Your Cut Flower Garden

Did you know a simple garden technique can create fuller, bushier plants, more blooms, and longer cut flower stems? It’s called “pinching” cut flower plants. In this post, I will guide you through this process, explain why it’s important, and more.

A cut flower garden is a beautiful way to bring color and life into your outdoor space. The best way to get your flowering plants to produce bigger blooms, and more of them, is to use the technique of pinching.

As a new gardener, I had no clue about a pinching process that would help me grow more productive plants. To say this method was a game changer in my cut flower garden would be a serious understatement. I couldn’t believe the difference in the plant growth and the extra blooms the plants were producing for harvest.

pinching cut flower plants: bright lilliput zinnias in the garden

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cut flower garden summer evening view overlooking the bay

To “pinch flowers” is to remove or cut off the central stem of the plant. This encourages the plant to produce new side branches from the side nodes and produces a bushier plant with more flower production throughout the growing season.

Pinching certain cut flowers is the perfect way to grow fuller plants. That sounds great in theory, right?

But when you’re taking garden pruners to your precious plant that you’ve nurtured and loved, it’s understandable if you start having second thoughts. I was initially uneasy trying this, but now I’m all in!

A pinched plant may have its bloom time delayed, but trust me. You will be much happier with the increase in bloom production and the length of the flower stems.

pinching cut flower plants: cut flower garden in summer
  • Stimulates new growth
  • Encourages the production of more sets of leaves and true leaves
  • Results in the plant’s bushier growth and more energy to produce flowers
  • Taller stems and more beautiful blooms

One of the primary benefits of pinching cut flowers is that it stimulates new growth. Sniping the young plant’s center tip of new stems triggers the plant to produce new branches from the leaf nodes below the pinch point.

This new growth will result in a bushier plant with more sets of leaves and more sets of true leaves. As a result, the plant will have more energy to produce flowers, resulting in longer stems and more beautiful blooms.

If you don’t pinch back your young flowering plants, your plants could grow only one central flower stem, produce shorter stems overall, and even become sad, spindly plants.

dahlia white with purple center

The best time to start pinching your flowers can vary by variety and climate. As a rule of thumb, you should pinch back the young plants when they are 8-12 inches tall and have 3-5 sets of leaves.

Here are some general timing guidelines:

  • Early Spring: This is a great time to pinch back many perennials and annuals. Pinching in early spring helps promote bushier growth and more blooms throughout the growing season. Plants like mums and asters benefit from being pinched back early in the season.
  • Summer: Pinching can continue for plants with a long blooming period. Regular pinching can encourage continuous blooming.
  • Fall: As the growing season winds down, it’s recommended to stop pinching back flowers to allow the plants to focus their energy on producing and setting seeds. Some plants may start to enter dormancy or prepare for winter, and pinching them at this stage can stress them.
  • Specific Plants: Some plants have specific pinching needs. For instance, basil benefits from regular pinching throughout its growing season to prevent it from flowering and going to seed.
  • Regional Timing: In regions with long growing seasons, pinching can be done later into the year, while in areas with shorter growing seasons, pinching might need to stop earlier to allow plants time to mature and set seed before frost.

Research the specific needs of your garden plants to determine the best pinching schedule for them.

pinching back sweet pea seedlings

Understanding the differences between soft and hard pinching helps gardeners choose the appropriate method for their gardening needs. Both techniques are important in maintaining healthy and productive garden plants.

Soft pinching removes the tips of new growth on plants to encourage bushier growth and more blooms without causing significant stress to the plant. Key aspects of soft pinching include:

  • Timing: Soft pinching is often done in the early stages of the growing season and can be continued throughout the season as needed.
  • Approach: This involves using your fingers or small scissors to pinch or snip off the top inch or so of the new growth just above a set of leaves or a node.
  • Benefits: Encourages branching and a fuller plant shape, promotes more blooms, and can be done frequently to maintain the preferred shape and size. It’s a low-stress method that doesn’t significantly impact the plant’s overall energy reserves.

Hard pinching is a more aggressive technique that involves removing a larger portion of the plant’s stems or growth tips. This method significantly shapes the plant, controls its size, or rejuvenates it for a new growth cycle. Key elements of hard pinching include:

  • Timing: Hard pinching is generally done earlier in the growing season to allow the plant enough time to recover and produce new growth. It’s often performed once or twice rather than continually.
  • Approach: This would be cutting back several inches of the stem, usually up to one-third of the plant’s height. It’s done just above a set of leaves or a node to encourage new growth from that point.
  • Benefits: Promotes a more compact and controlled shape, can rejuvenate older or leggy plants, and encourages the growth of stronger and numerous blooms. It’s a more intense method that can temporarily reduce blooms as the plant redirects its energy to recover and produce new growth.

Once the cut flower plants reach 8 and 12″ tall, pinch them by snipping out 3 to 5 inches of the growing center stem above a set of leaves, preferably above two or more. Be sure to use clean, sharp garden pruners for clean snips.

This will stimulate new growth from the leaf nodes below the hard pinch point, producing new side shoots and more blooms.

Be sure to remove no more than 50% of the leaves, as the plant needs them for photosynthesis.

All you need is a pair of scissors, garden snips or garden shears to pinch your cut flowers.

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pinching cut flower plants: pink sweet peas

Pinching cut flowers can benefit many flowering plants, including annuals and perennial flowers like a dahlia flower.

Pinching is especially helpful for those plants with a single main stem, such as sweet peas or perennial geraniums.

These plants tend to naturally focus their energy on growing one tall stem, which can limit the number of flowers they produce. Snipping off the tip of the main stem signals the plant to redirect its energy into creating multiple branches from the base.

Here are examples of single-stem plants that benefit from pinching…

strawflowers in the cut flower garden

These flowering annuals typically have a natural tendency to produce a single main stem. Still, by pinching their central growing tips, they can be encouraged to branch out and develop more lateral shoots.

pinching cut flower plants: chocolate dara or Queen Anne's Lace flower
  • Those plants producing only one flower per plant, such as single-stem sunflowers and birds of paradise.
  • Cut flowers that naturally produce multiple stems and don’t need pinching, like foxglove, dara (Queen Anne’s lace), and delphinium.
  • Varieties naturally growing in a rosette form, staying low and compact without the need for pinching.
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‘Growing a Cut Flower Garden’ Series


snapdragons being supported by netting

No. Although pinching and deadheading involves removing parts of the plant, the two are different gardening techniques.

While pinching cut flower plants encourages branching and bushier growth, deadheading removes spent or faded flowers from a plant to promote continuous blooms and prevent seed formation.

To remove a plant’s tips or shoots, you can use your fingers, garden snippers, or shears.

Pinching generally benefits plants but can sometimes harm them when done correctly. Here are some considerations to keep in mind to ensure pinching helps rather than hurts your plants:

When Pinching Can Hurt a Plant

  • Timing: Pinching at the wrong time of year can stress the plant. For example, pinching late in the season can interfere with the plant’s ability to prepare for dormancy or set seeds.
  • Over-Pinching: Excessive pinching can deplete the plant’s energy reserves, especially if too much foliage is removed at once. This can weaken the plant and reduce its overall energy.
  • Incorrect Technique: Using the wrong tools or techniques can damage the plant. For example, tearing the stems instead of making clean cuts can leave the plant vulnerable to disease and pests.
  • Sensitive Plants: Some plants do not respond well to pinching. Plants with a single growing point or naturally less strong might suffer from pinching, which can stunt their growth or cause them to stop growing altogether.
  • Stress Conditions: Pinching plants already stressed due to drought, poor soil, disease, or pest infestations can further weaken them.

Best Practices for Pinching

  • Right Timing: Pinch during the active growing season, typically in the early stages of growth or early summer, depending on the plant species.
  • Moderation: Avoid over-pinching. Remove a small portion of the stem, usually the top inch or so, to encourage branching without stressing the plant.
  • Clean Cuts: Use sharp scissors, shears, or fingers to make clean cuts. This helps prevent tearing and reduces the risk of introducing diseases.
  • Healthy Plants: Only pinch healthy, vigorous plants that can recover quickly from the loss of growth tips.
  • Research: Understand the specific needs and responses of the plants you pinch. Some plants, like herbs and annual flowers, respond well to pinching, while others might not benefit as much.

Many plants grow taller and more leggy without pinching, resulting in fewer lateral branches and a sparser, less bushy appearance. This often leads to fewer blooms, as the plants focus their energy on the main stem rather than developing multiple flowering branches.

The flowers that do form might be larger but fewer in number, and the stems may be weaker and more prone to bending or breaking, especially under the weight of large flowers or during windy conditions.

Unpinched plants may take longer to produce their first blooms, as pinching can accelerate branching and flowering. The plant’s natural shape will be less controlled, which can be a drawback for both garden design and cut flower bouquets.

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cut flower garden with white picket fence and greenhouse

Pinching your cut flower plants is a valuable technique that can significantly enhance your garden’s growth, appearance, and productivity.

Pinching helps create fuller, more vigorous plants by encouraging bushier growth, more lateral branches, and an increased number of blooms. The benefits of stronger stems, improved air circulation, and better-shaped plants make the effort worthwhile for many gardeners.

However, it’s important to understand each plant type’s specific needs and practice pinching properly to avoid potential stress or harm. Whether you choose to pinch or not, being mindful of your plants’ growth patterns and requirements will help you achieve a beautiful and thriving garden.

If you have any questions or have a message, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below. And be sure to share this blog post link with anyone who may find these gardening tips useful.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening!

I’m a self-taught hobby gardener, not a Master Gardener. Everything I share on my blog is my opinion and what has worked for me.

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growing cut flowers: the benefits of pinching

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7 Comments

  1. Kim, I need your help. I am growing dahlias this year for the first time. Well, seriously the first time I bought tubers and started them. Two of the dahlias are huge. I didn’t know about pinching them. I am trying to keep these giant plants from falling over. Is it possible to cut them back some now or is it too late? I only had one bloom as well. Is there anything I can do now? Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.
    Kathy

    1. Hi Kathy,
      Thank you for your question.
      At this point in the season it may be too late but that’s ok. You’ve learned a couple of valuable lessons to carry through to next growing season. First of all, pinching your young dahlias really are going to get your plants to fill in with side shoots vs. growing tall with few blooms. You will be amazed by how much of a difference it makes and how many flowers you will grow. As for the plants falling over, are you tying them up and staking them, or supporting them in another way? I have a post on supporting your plants to keep them from falling over. Just search for it and read more about how you can keep them from falling over. I hope that helps a bit.

  2. your garden is just grand! May I ask how the white post with lights are anchored. Like that idea.

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