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A Step-By-Step Guide to Pinching Flowers for Bigger and Better Blooms

There’s a secret hack that all cut flower growers know about, and it’s time you learn the magic trick, too.

The trick is called pinching, and this one simple technique will allow you to increase your cut flower yields significantly. 

Pinching isn’t a difficult task, but it can feel counterintuitive since you’ll have to take the shears to your beautiful seedlings. But if you put your faith in the process, you’ll be rewarded with healthier plants and more flowers on longer stems. 

But how do you properly pinch flowers? And what types of plants benefit from this technique? In this guide, we'll go over the basics of flower pinching and provide tips on how to do it effectively. 

So, let's get started and double your flower production this year! Are you ready?

Why pinching flowers is beneficial

Pinching your flowers can help improve their overall health, appearance, and of course, productivity. Similar to pruning, the idea is to remove the central stem to encourage the plant to branch out rather than grow into a single central stalk. 

Healthier plants

As crazy as it sounds, cutting branching plants back will encourage the plant to grow back stronger—just like with pruning. The main stem will grow thicker and will be better able to support its own weight.

Removing the growing tip forces a plant to temporarily redirect its energy from flower production to vegetative and root growth, creating a sturdier plant that is better equipped to handle hard rains, drought, and wind. 

More flowers

The number-one reason to pinch flowers has to do with more blooms on straighter stems. Cut flower growers use this technique to double their yields.  

Pinching does delay bloom time by a few weeks, and yes, the plants may not grow as tall as unpinched plants, but the blooms are definitely of a higher quality. You may not have the first flowers, but you’ll certainly have the most. If you want early flowers, you can pinch most of your patch but leave a few plants to flower earlier.

Longer bloom time

Annual plants are designed to flower, set seeds, and then die back in a single growing season. Any kind of stress, including heat, drought, or wind, will trigger a plant to flower and set seed even faster. Pinching slows down this process, forcing plants to flower again since the first round of flowers didn’t get pollinated.

Not all flowers need to be pinched, and even the ones that do benefit from pinching don’t require it. However, pinching flowers early on results in more prolific blooms and a longer flowering season.

When to pinch flowers

After you’ve pinched your flowers enough times, you’ll know exactly when it’s time to make the cut. There are a few general guidelines that signal it’s time to pinch flowers:

Plants are almost a foot tall

It’s time to pinch flowers when transplants are between 8 and 12 inches tall and have several sets of true leaves. In this vegetative state, plants have enough foliage to survive, losing some leaves, but the plants are young enough to bounce back quickly from any damage or stress. If your starts are in the greenhouse or in pots when they reach this height or start budding, you can still pinch them back indoors.

An overcast day in late spring

You want to pinch flowers as early as possible since pinching does temporarily delay plant growth. The later you wait, the longer it will take to replace what was lost. However, pinching too hard or too early can have similar effects, so it’s always better to pinch flowers at the ideal time. 

Pinching later in the season isn’t as effective as pinching earlier in spring, but if you missed the perfect window to pinch, don’t worry. You can pinch a plant even after its first bloom by making a deep cut when you cut the first flower.

While it’s not worth obsessing over, it is generally better to pinch plants on an overcast day or in the evening since direct sunlight can put some stress on freshly-pinched plants.

You only have to pinch flowers once when the plant is young. When a mature plant is fully in bloom, cutting the flowers periodically will have a similar effect, lengthening the bloom season by preventing the plant from going to seed.

How to pinch plants perfectly

A good rule of thumb for pinching is to cut a plant back to about two-thirds of its original size. Always cut just above a set of leaves so that the plant will continue to grow. 

  1. First, sanitize and sharpen snips if needed—you want to make a clean cut so the plant can quickly heal itself. 
  2. Next, locate the central stem and find a point three to four inches from the top of the plant, just above a set of leaves. Make the cut three to four inches from the top of the plant.
  3. Make a clean cut and remove the debris. 
  4. Repeat the process for all (or most) of the pinchable plants!

That’s all there is to it, really. If you struggle a bit with pinching at first, don’t worry—you’re in good company. It’s counterintuitive to willingly cut back a healthy seedling, and of course, there’s always the worry that you’ll hurt your plants. But we can assure you, your plants will be all the better for it.

After pinching, give your plants a thorough watering and wait. Within a few days, you’ll see new growth below the pinched point, and in a week or two, you’ll really begin to see the plants send out more budding stems. 

Tips to keep in mind:

  • Use clean snips to make the cut—don’t use your fingers to pinch, as this runs the risk of ripping or tearing the plant. Make a 50-50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water and carry it with you as you go down the row. Dunk your snips in the solution between plants to prevent the spreading of disease between plants.
  • Don’t cut the plant back by more than a third of its original size, and avoid removing more than half of its leaves, or you risk stressing the plant.
  • Pinching isn’t quite the same as deadheading or the removal of spent flowers. Pinching involves making a deep cut right above a pair of leaves, which will encourage the plant to make long stems. Deadheading is simply pulling off dead flowers. Both practices prolong flowering and encourage more blooms, but pinching has the added benefit of training the plant to grow long stems, which are ideal for cut flower production.

Flowers that benefit from pinching

Pinching primarily benefits annual flowering plants and herbs that have a tendency to branch. These are the “cut-and-come-again” flowers, which means the more you cut them, the more they bloom! These plants cannot be harmed by pinching.

Don’t pinch these flowers

Pinching single-stem annuals or flowers that naturally branch is unnecessary and may stunt their growth. These flowers, sometimes called “one-and-done” because they only produce one single, beautiful stem, will not flower at all if they are pinched.

In conclusion, pinching is a simple yet effective technique for promoting healthy plant growth and increasing the number of blooms on certain types of flowers and herbs. Pinching slows down the process of flowering and seed production, allowing plants to redirect their energy towards producing more flowers.

It is important to pinch flowers at the right time, when plants are around one foot tall, and to use clean snips to prevent the spread of disease. Pinching benefits "cut-and-come-again" flowers like cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias, while flowers like black-eyed Susans and foxgloves do not benefit from pinching. Overall, pinching is a valuable tool for both cut flower growers and home gardeners looking to produce more blooms

Now that you know how to pinch flowers for more blooms, shop our selection of gorgeous flowering annuals and put your knowledge to the test this season. Happy growing!

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