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Pinch back plants for more blooms

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Jessica Wallier
The process of pinching involves removing the growing point of each plant stem. When done correctly, pinching removes the initial flower bud and forces the stem to branch, forming two new flower buds where there once was one.

Every June I head out to my garden and spend a few minutes on a chore that many gardeners neglect. Though it’s often forgotten, pinching back your plants can extend their bloom time, keep the plants more compact and reduce fungal diseases by improving air circulation.

The process of pinching involves removing the growing point of each plant stem. When done correctly, pinching removes the initial flower bud and forces the stem to branch, forming two new flower buds where there once was one. For many plants, this doubles the number of flowering stems and delays and/or extends the bloom time, leading to more flowers for a longer period of time.

Most annuals respond well to pinching, but not all perennials do. If you pinch a perennial that forms only a single flower bud or flower stalk per year, you’ll be completely eliminating that flower. For example, never pinch a peony or any perennial with narrow, blade-like foliage, such as daylilies, iris, red hot pokers and oriental or Asiatic lilies. Other perennials you should not pinch are those that form their flowers on tall, slender stems that extend above a low cluster of foliage, such as astilbes, hostas, coralbells and yarrow.

Instead, save your pinching for annual plants and tall perennials that grow in large clumps, such as phlox, monarda, asters, ironweed, veronica, turtlehead, monkshood, sneezeweed, fall-blooming sedums and mums, among others. If you’re not sure whether a particular plant will respond well to pinching, pinch only one or two stems and mark them with a twist tie. Then, watch those stems for the remainder of the growing season to see if they branch and flower later than the other unpinched stems.

When pinching, you can either remove all the growing tips by pinching them off between your thumbnail and index finger or with a clean, sharp pair of shears, or you can only pinch off half of the growing tips. If you do half, the unpinched stems will flower as usual, but the pinched ones will continue to develop and bloom several weeks after the first batch of flowers have faded. Pinching half of the stems means the plant could be in bloom for several months, instead of just a few weeks.

However, never pinch a perennial after early July as this will delay the flowering too much and the buds may not develop before frost strikes.

To pinch perennials and annuals, simply remove the top few inches of growth. You can remove up to half of the plant’s height which will keep the plant more compact, too.

An early summer pinching extends the bloom time of your garden, increases the number of blooms and keeps long, lanky plants more compact.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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