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To Pinch or Not to Pinch

To Pinch or Not to Pinch

To pinch or not to pinch. That is the question!

You’ve nailed down your garden plan for the season, and you’re preparing to grow buckets and buckets of cut flowers. You have your seeds growing on their little heat mats, and you are off to a great start! But there is one little problem left to deal with, “pinching.” Well, you’ve found the right place.

What is “pinching”?

Pinching is the process of removing the top few sets of leaves or a portion of new growth on a young plant. Ideally, you remove this just above a node to stimulate lateral branching. 

Why do you pinch flowers?

We know! It feels counterproductive! You have worked so hard to grow beautiful and strong seedlings, and now we are telling you to give them a strong pinch. It’s just a little plant haircut, but we know it can be sad to give up even one leaf! But do it!

By pinching certain varieties of flowers, you are actually promoting their growth and helping produce a more robust plant with more branches and even more flowers. Who doesn’t love more flowers?!

When to Pinch?

Pinching times vary by plant, but a general rule is to have multiple sets of true leaves prior to pinching. By having several sets of true leaves, the plant has enough foliage to produce the energy required to promote lateral branching and growth. If you pinch too much of the plant, you run the risk of killing the seedling by not leaving enough foliage for the plant to complete the process of photosynthesis.

Which flower varieties should I pinch?

There are countless varieties of flowers, and it can be challenging for growers to know if pinching a specific variety will enhance bloom and plant performance or hinder it. While this article isn’t a comprehensive list, we hope to help you pinch with confidence with our guide of ten must pinch plants, and ten plants you should never pinch! 

Flowers to Pinch:

Zinnias -  Perhaps the most forgiving cut flower variety, zinnias are an excellent crop to start practicing pinching with. This is one of those varieties that the harder you pinch, the more they bloom.

Cosmos - Nobody could ever accuse a cosmos plant of not producing countless bouquets of flowers whether pinched or not! But pinching this plant helps encourage more stability as well as branching. Hard pinching cosmos in the seedling stage and cutting deep long stems when harvesting cut flowers will help keep this plant upright throughout the growing season.

Basil - While basil isn’t a traditional cut flower for a cut flower farm or garden, basil makes a fantastic fragrant foliage to add to bouquets. Pinching basil will promote branching to create both stronger stems for your bouquets and more tasty basil leaves for your kitchen!

zinnia from seed cosmos from seed

Snapdragons - Snapdragons are a variety of cut flower that does well both pinched and un pinched. It really depends on your personal goals with this variety. Many growers take a dual approach by leaving a portion of snapdragons un pinched. These un pinched snapdragons often produce taller stems that mature earlier. Pinching snapdragon seedlings promotes lateral branching, meaning you’ll get more blooms from a pinched plant. These blooms will mature later than their un pinched counterparts, so the dual approach can be part of your succession planting strategy.

Celosia - Celosia plants benefit from pinching, but not all varieties should be pinched. The plume varieties, celosia plumosa, and the wheat varieties, celosia spicata, both benefit from pinching, but the crested varieties should NOT be pinched if you want those lovely fan and brain shapes!

Dahlias - Dahlias need a good hard pinch after they have several sets of true leaves. This will help promote branching, and also it helps increase stability in plants that are prone to falling over. 

celosia celway purple dahlia harlequin mix

Branching Sunflowers -
You don’t have to pinch branching sunflowers to get beautiful sunflower blooms, but by pinching these varieties when they have several true leaves, you’ll increase the stem count you can harvest.

Marigolds - There are countless varieties of marigolds, but if you’re growing the giant marigolds that cut flower farmers typically grow, pinching is a must. If they’re just being grown as a wonderful companion plant in your garden, then pinching is optional.

Amaranth - Amaranth is a beautiful edition to bouquets in the cut flower industry, and there are countless varieties varying from large, tall spikes, to drooping amaranth dreadlocks. All varieties benefit from pinching. If you do not pinch amaranth, the bloom size is far too large and cumbersome in bouquets.

Sweet Peas -
What says spring like sweet peas? These fragrant vining blooms are a wonderful edition to a cut flower garden, and they benefit from a nice pinch. Just use your fingers and pinch out a few leaves from the top of your seedling and watch how much healthier your sweet pea starts to become.

amaranthus mira mix marigold endurance

Which flowers should NOT be pinched?

While many varieties benefit from pinching, there are just as many that actually suffer from pinching. The varieties of cut flowers listed below really shouldn’t ever be pinched as pinching may do harm to the bloom, create shorter stems, and overall decrease your success with these plants.

Flowers NOT to pinch:

Single Stem Sunflowers - If you’re a cut flower farmer or even just someone growing flowers for arrangements in the kitchen, the single stem sunflower is a fast blooming and beautiful addition to your farm. But these varieties only produce one single quality bloom, and should never be pinched, unlike the branching varieties.

Stock -  Much like single stem sunflowers, stock is a onetime wonder. These fragrant and delicious smelling blooms only put off one solid bloom, and they should never be pinched.

Lisianthus - Lisianthus often can struggle with a quality stem length when grown for cut flowers. Pinching these slow growing plants will not likely hurt them, but it could result in smaller stems and less blooms. This is the exact opposite goal we are trying to accomplish by pinching many varieties, so skip pinching for better quality blooms.

Eucalyptus - Pinching eucalyptus plants is often unnecessary. Once the plant reaches several inches, check to see if there are any lateral branches beginning to grow. If not, give it the lightest, little, tiny pinch. With that said, if you are growing Eucalyptus in a zone where it will over winter, coppicing the trees in the fall will help maintain a more usable size stem for cut flower bouquets, arrangements, and designs. Coppicing is the process of cutting the tree down to near ground level, to promote new shoot growth from their roots. It’s kind of like a very aggressive version of pinching!

lisianthus eucalyptus

Campanula - Campanula, also known as Canterbury Bells, is not a variety that you should pinch. This biennial is a beautiful and fun addition to the garden, but it’s best to just let it be.

Celosia - We know. This is confusing. We just said you can pinch celosia. But not all celosia benefit from pinching. Many of the crested varieties will not perform well after pinching. If you want those big and super large crests, then don’t pinch these varieties.

Bupleurum - Sometimes referred to as Throw Wax, bupleurum is a beautiful foliage for cut flower bouquets. For the best stem length, it’s recommended to never pinch this variety.

campanula euphorbia

Foxglove -
Foxglove gets a bit of notoriety in the garden for being poisonous, but it is a wonderful cut flower when treated with care. The plant, itself, doesn’t benefit from being pinched, but it is worth noting that when in bloom foxglove will put off some smaller stems. It may be worthwhile to simply cut these or pinch the shorter blooms out to feed the energy back to the main plant and larger blooms.

Dill - Dill should not be pinched. It will be tempting as these plants can grow very tall very quickly, but just let them go to bloom and enjoy that fragrant pickle scented flower that feels so timeless in the garden.

Euphorbia - Euphorbia is another wonderful foliage to add to your garden for cut flower bouquets, and while you can pinch to produce more stems, it’s not necessary to do so. The milky white sap can be a skin and eye irritant, so we recommend avoiding the “pinch” altogether. If you do choose to pinch, make sure and use gloves and take proper safety precautions to avoid the sap. 

What about all the other varieties and perennials?

There are countless varieties of flowering plants all of which have their own preferred growing conditions. Some of which respond very well to the pinching process, and some of which do not.

If you’re not sure if you should pinch a specific variety, just take the extra time and do some research to double check. A little more effort getting the pinching process right with cut flowers can double or even triple your flower yields, so we promise it is definitely worth the extra step.

Happy Growing!