Pinching Plants: Why (and How) do Gardeners Pinch Plants?

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Pruning plants is at least an occasional task for gardeners. During the growing season, plants are more likely to expand and become more beautiful or productive. Pruning the plants at the right time can allow them to bounce back bigger, thicker, and healthier. One of the most common and easiest types of pruning is referred to as pinching. When done correctly, it promotes growth in ways that gardeners can manage. With these tips, people will understand why they might pinch plants and how to do it.

What Is Pinching?

Pinching is a type of pruning that gardeners use to control the growth of soft stems. The process is fairly simple and can have predictable results. A person cuts off the tip of a soft stem, near a leaf node. After the cutting, the plant will change course and sprout two new stems at those nodes. The effect creates a thicker plant that will have a longer growing period, which is important for decorative varieties or those that produce fruit.

Pinching is not the same as tipping trees, which is a complete different type of pruning that can often cause damage. As a general rule, gardeners should only pinch plants with soft stems, and avoiding pruning off too much of the plant. Some plants do not take well to pinching, like sunflowers or dill. People who want the plant to flower or seed as quickly as possible also may want to avoid pinching.

Why Pinch Your Plants?

Pinching plants provides a variety of benefits for gardeners, especially those who are growing plants for food. Advantages include:

  • Controlling direction of growth
  • Encouraging bushier instead of tall plants
  • Confining the size of plants
  • Extending the growth period prior to flowering or seeding

For example, gardeners who are growing herbs for harvest want as many leaves as possible. Herbs like basil will continue to grow upward until they flower, after which they become woody. Pinching these herbs helps them to grow fuller and delays the flowering process. People may also want to pinch decorative indoor or outdoor plants, to promote the growth of more beautiful leaves. For indeterminate plants like certain types of tomatoes, pinching helps to keep the plant under control. Otherwise, it can continue to grow and possibly choke out other nearby plants.

How to Pinch Your Plants

There are a couple of different ways that gardeners can pinch their plants, depending on the type of plant and what they have available. The name “pinching” comes from the way that people will often use their fingernails to lop off the end of the stem. Of course, gardeners with short fingernails or who do not want to use them can also use a precise, sharp pair of pruning shears. The best place to pinch or cut is just above a leaf node on a stem that already has at least one or two sets of leaves. People who use shears should take care that they do not cut too far or cut off other stems in the process. Some plants can be propagated from pinching. In this case, using shears or a sharp knife is best to avoid damaging the stem.

Pinching offers even inexperienced gardeners a way to control the growth of their plants without too much risk for damaging them. By engaging in pinching correctly and at the right time of the growing season, people can have better-looking plants that grow longer and produce more.

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