Ouch! Just like when you are pinched, pinching plant material is done by using your thumb and forefinger. In this case, it doesn’t hurt. A clean, sharp pair of hand pruners will also work. You can either pinch off just the new leaves or you can take off several inches. Both will encourage branching. Most herbs are grown for their foliage. By increasing branching you will increase leaf production, making the plant more productive for you.
By pinching off the flowers on a young annual, you will encourage the plant to develop a better root system. This will lead to a healthier plant that is more drought tolerant and disease and insect resistant. Pinching of annuals is usually done very early in the season by growers when the plants are still growing in the greenhouses. However, if you are growing annuals from seed, you may want to pinch off the first several flower buds.
Pinching back perennials such as mums and asters will increase branching and flower production, making it a more compact, attractive plant. Asters and mums can both be pinched back several times before July 4th, or they can simply be cut in half around early June and will still flower in the fall. Beebalm is another perennial that will benefit from pinching. It can be cut back by one half in early to mid- May to encourage a more compact, full shape. This will delay the bloom period, but only by a week or two. ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum is another perennial that will appreciate some pinching. This plant tends to flop over quite readily before its flowers open. By pinching back before July 4th, you will help the plant to stay standing throughout the season.
Other plants that benefit from pinching: Herbs such as basil and rosemary will increase branching and leaf production after pinching. Some perennials that will benefit from pinching include chrysanthemum, tall garden phlox, yarrow, and Russian sage.
Not all plants will appreciate pinching. Leave columbine, astilbe, delphinium, daylily, coral bell, hosta, iris, foxglove and dianthus to their own devices and they will be fine.
Have a great day in the garden and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Rachael and Tobias