I inherited my love of gardening from my mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.
Why Pinch Back a Plant?
Pinching back is pruning to encourage fuller, bushier plants.
Commercially grown potted pants are intensely monitored and cared for to create bushy blooming perennials. If you buy one of these bushy plants but do not pinch it back the next year, it will grow tall and leggy, often requiring staking.
Pinching back a plant means pinching off the growing tips. It is a form of hand-pruning the plant. You can do it by hand or with a pair of snips. Not all plants respond to this treatment, but some (like mums, basil, and coleus) thrive with the technique.
Pinching back encourages the plant to grow bushier rather than taller. By removing the terminal bud, a plant hormone that inhibits lateral growth or growth in width is produced. By pinching off the terminal bud, you remove the source of that inhibitory hormone, encouraging the plant to grow from its lateral buds, those that occur down the sides of the stem.
Coleus: Pinching is essential to turning coleus, into a bushy, colorful, and healthy plant.
- Start the pinching process by taking out the terminal bud of each stem.
- When pinching off the terminal bud, the plant no longer grows leggy, just more stalky and bushy.
- As you pinch back the terminal bud, twice the amount of leaves sprout out, creating even bushier plants. This will create lush, colorful plants.
- Make more coleus by clipping a stem just below the leaves and putting the stem in water to root. Remove any leaves that are in the water.
Mums: Pinching will encourage more flowers. The mums you purchase have been pinched early and often. If you are planting these mums and growing them as perennials, it is important that you continue pinching plants every spring. This is our rough schedule that we used in the garden club as we grew mums for sale in the fall.
- When pinching mums for sale, scheduling is important.
- Begin early enough to really make a bushy plant. Stop soon enough so flower buds can develop before cool weather. Begin with this guide and adjust as your climate allows.
- First, pinch shoot tips when the stems are four to six inches high.
- Pinch again three weeks later.
- Pinch in late June.
- Pinch a final time in mid-July.
Basil: Pinching back basil means more edible leaves and a more attractive plant. Whether growing basil for culinary use or as an ornamental in the garden, this plant must be pinched back.
I grow several varieties of basil each year. I love basil and want plenty to use fresh and to preserve as pesto and in herb vinegar. Growing basil from seed gives me more basil choices, and it is much cheaper.
- When the plants are 8-10 inches tall; pinch the tops off.
- As the plants grow back, they produce two new stems at every pinched site.
- Continue to pinch back the plants to encourage more forking.
- Pinched back stems produce another pair of stems, doubling the stems that will produce flavorful leaves.
- To extend the growing season for basil, pinch out the blooms or the plant will "go to seed." To keep the plant producing leaves, remove the flowering parts.
- Once the plant blooms and starts producing seed, it stops producing leaves.
Basil and tomatoes are good companions in the garden and in the kitchen. As you pinch basil plants, use the clippings to flavor tomato slices.
Start Pinching Early
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Patsy Bell Hobson
Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on January 30, 2015:
MomsTreasureChest, thank you for reading my hubs. I appreciate your kind words.
MomsTreasureChest on January 17, 2015:
Great basil growing tips! I didn't know that once the plant blooms and starts producing seed it stops producing leaves. Terrific hub, thanks for sharing!
Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on September 14, 2014:
greatstuff, Thai basil is beautiful and tasty. Thank you for reading my hubs. Be sure to cut some basil and bring it in before the frost.
Mazlan from Malaysia on September 14, 2014:
Now that I know, my Thai basil now needs a lot of clippings!! Thanks for this info.
Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on July 22, 2012:
I appreciate your kind words. Thank you. Please ask if you have other herb questions.
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on July 22, 2012:
Thank you! This is is just what I needed to know. I have a parsley plant from last year that sprouted a lengthy stalk with seeds. Good to know that when I lopped that off it was the right thing to do. Very useful!
toomuchmint on June 16, 2012:
I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with out of control, leggy garden plants. Thanks PatsyBell for the advice on pinching basil! I use seeds too, because of the great varieties, but they form a forest really fast.
Now I know how to control them and thanks to MobyWho, I know how to use the remnants!
Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on April 30, 2012:
I appreciate the feed back. Pinching is a must for lush basil plants.
RTalloni on April 30, 2012:
Thanks much for this look at pinching plants. This guide will help gardeners make the most of their efforts.
MobyWho from Burlington VT on April 06, 2012:
Don't waste the pinched basil - dry it or make herbed salts, etc. Actually, it tastes good just to eat it as you work. Great photos! and I'm impressed with your stake organization. Wow!
Sustainable Sue from Altadena CA, USA on April 06, 2012:
Thanks for this explanation. Not many people realize that pinching and deadheading are two different things. Pinching takes off the tips of stems to make a plant bushy, whereas deadheading takes off dead flowers to conserve energy, so it can produce more flowers. (Otherwise it would use the energy to make seeds.) Voted up.