Question: I have heard that I should be pinching some of my seedlings. What does that mean?
Answer: Pinching, much like pruning trees and shrubs, is a technique that can be used to shape a plant, increase production of herbs, flowers and fruits, and even keep your garden blooming longer. The term literally refers to using your fingers and fingernails to break off the new tender growth at the end of the stem. Though, if you have a lot of pinching to do, you can use small snips to save your manicure.
Before you pinch, remember that the first set of leaves at the bottom of your plant is not a true set of leaves. Those are the cotyledons. You do not want to pinch back that far, but you can pinch just above your first or second set of true leaves. You should pinch your plant as close to leaf nodes as possible, being careful not to injure the tiny buds beneath. You will notice that each time you remove a main stem, your plant will try to grow two new stems beneath the pinch or cut. As gardeners and especially as first time seed starters, it can be hard to get your head around taking new growth off of your seedlings, but using this method forces most plants to grow bushier and fuller rather than concentrating their energy on getting taller.
Basil, tarragon, thyme, sage, scented geraniums, zinnia and marigolds are among the many herbs and perennials that respond well to pinching. Oregano and thyme do best when pinched or cut back to about half their length. Frequent pinching can keep rosemary and lavender to a manageable size during their spring growth spurt. For herbs, pinching will encourage more leaf growth and discourage them from flowering and going to seed, supplying you with lots of herbs for cooking.
Annuals that respond well to pinching such as coleus, impatiens, salvia, most snapdragons and petunias should be pinched early in the season to encourage bushing and spreading. This will encourage more side branching, resulting in more flowers and color in your garden.
When working with plants that you want to flower, keep in mind that each time you pinch, you are delaying flowering. You can use this as a method of extending or staggering the late-blooming flowers like phlox and asters in your garden. For example, you can pinch the branches of one side of a plant to create flowering slightly later than the side that has not been pinched.
Pinching is not appropriate for all plants, so be sure to check your variety before you pinch. Plants with one terminal flower spike or plants with leaves in a low rosette rather than a long stem should not be pinched.
Many flowers benefit from pinching or cutting, rewarding you with armloads of blooms. Need more help with which plants to pinch? Atlantic County Master Gardeners are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., but samples may be dropped off anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Atlantic County residents can contact the Master Gardener Helpline at 609-625-0056. Cape May County Residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Do you have a gardening related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org; please include “garden question” in the subject line.
Upcoming Master Gardener Events:
Atlantic County Master Gardener Garden Education Day and Annual Plant Sale is being held on May 18 at the David C Wood 4H Center, 3210 Route 50, Mays Landing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We will have a wide range of annuals, perennials, vegetable plants, and native pollinator plants. Over 3300 plants homegrown by our Master Gardeners will be available for sale. Rutgers 250 and Ramapo tomato seeds will be available for those that wish to direct seed their garden.
Home gardeners attending this year’s program can increase their gardening know how through a variety of lectures, demonstrations and displays. Education tables will include composting (by ACUA Master Composters); the advantages of Native plants; 4H group displays; and “Ask a Master Gardener” for all your general gardening questions. The Master Gardeners will also accept soil samples for pH testing. Each test is $2.
Lectures include: 9:15 a.m. “Growing Peonies”; 10 a.m. “How to Create a Pollinator Garden”; 11 a.m. “Everything Monarchs”; noon “Landscaping with Native Plants and Shrubs”; 1 p.m. “Veggie Gardening: Easy Pea-sy”; and 2 p.m. “Container Gardening With Annuals.”
All lectures are free and do not require preregistration. This is a great event for residents who not only want plants to start or improve their garden but also the guidance to do it well. All sale proceeds go toward continued support of Rutgers Master Gardeners of Atlantic County community outreach projects. This includes upkeep of a public demonstration/learning garden, library gardens, school gardens, nonprofit garden assistance and free educational programming around the county for adults and youth.