How to Pinch Your Plants for Stronger Stems and More Flowers

Pinching babies isn’t a good idea, but pinching plants can be! Gardening Expert Melissa Strauss explains how to pinch your plants for prettier plants and lots of flowers.

Pinch plants. Close-up of a woman's hand pinching a tomato plant in a greenhouse. The tomato plant has large, compound leaves that consist of oval leaflets with serrated edges.


If you want to increase the size and vigor of your flowering plants, we have a trick for you to try. If you’ve never heard of pinching your plants to increase their output, you are in for a great surprise. Cutting the tops off of your young plants may sound counterintuitive, but if done right, is an excellent way to increase production and enhance their appearance.

Pinching increases branching and improves the overall appearance of many plants. This practice causes the plant to grow larger and stronger, with a nicer shape. It also significantly increases the production of flowers and creates longer and stronger stems.

Pinching is an easy and productive practice to carry out in the garden, especially the cut flower garden. It is a simple task that will result in major growth and the increased proliferation of your plants. Let’s talk about how and why pinching plants is a great idea and which plants you should and shouldn’t pinch.

What is Plant Pinching?

Pinching flowers. Close-up of a woman's hand touching a young pinched seedling among the brown loose soil in the garden. This seedling has a short purple stem and three pairs of oval, smooth green leaves with purple veins.
Pinching encourages lush growth and abundant blooms in your plants.

Pinching is a pruning method that increases branching and, therefore, changes the shape and size of your plants. You may have heard this practice referred to as “tipping” or “topping.” This is because this pruning practice involves removing just the tips of your plants. The purpose is to increase the production of new branches by making the plant by back budding. It works on fruit trees and bushes, too!

When your plants sprout, typically, they are a single stem. If left alone, these stems will continue their upward growth, producing sets of leaves along that single stem. Eventually, your plants are likely to branch a bit as they get larger. More branches mean more flowers or fruit.

This is where pinching comes into play. Pinching encourages the plant to branch sooner by forming two stems where you remove a portion of the central stem. This leads to fuller, bushier growth. When a flowering plant has more branches, it produces more flowers; so this practice significantly increases flowering. 

Now, not all plants benefit from tipping. It is important to know how to recognize the difference. You shouldn’t pinch plants that don’t branch naturally. This works only on plants that eventually branch by themselves. Think of it as encouraging your plants to branch out early. 

Benefits of Pinching Your Plants

Close-up of a man's hands pinching basil in a garden on a blurred green background. The basil plant presents itself with sturdy stems and vibrant, aromatic foliage characterized by smooth, slightly toothed leaves of bright green color. The basil plant produces small clusters of delicate flowers at the tips of its stems.
Encouraging lush foliage and abundant blooms, pinching plants works wonders.

Pinching plants has more than one benefit in the garden. For one thing, pinching is a great way to create lush, bushy plants with denser foliage. It speeds the process from having a seedling to having an attractive mature plant. It works for hanging plants and plants with an upward growth habit, too. For plants that have a trailing habit, pinching will result in more vining, creating a more attractive appearance. 

It is particularly helpful in the cut flower garden. In the cutting garden, pinching serves an important purpose. By encouraging your plants to branch, you also encourage them to produce more flowers. Where a single stem may only produce one flower or cluster, two stems produce twice as much, and so on. By pinching the plants in your cutting garden, you will significantly increase your yield. 

The only drawback to pinching is that it can delay blooming. It won’t delay it by much, though. If you begin early enough in the season and time it properly, it should only delay blooming by a couple of weeks. Make sure you don’t go overboard, as you may end up with a very short blooming season. Unless your objective is to have a lot of flowers to cut at the same time. If that is the case, keep on pinching until you reach your goal. 

In terms of delayed blooming, the benefits definitely outweigh the brief amount of extra waiting time, depending on the length of your season. Pinching your plants can lead to a significant increase in the number of blooms your plants produce. Your plant will more than make up for the short delay in blooming. If the overall goal is more flowers, pinching is the way to go. 

Pinching your plants will help to keep them more compact, avoiding a leggy appearance. It will also encourage longer, stronger stems. You can even pinch fruit and vegetable-bearing plants to increase your harvest.  

For plants like dahlias that need support, pinching can reduce the need for those supports. It does this by creating denser plants with shorter, stronger stems. Dahlias are one of those plants that you absolutely should pinch. It will keep your plants bushy and strong, helping them to stand up to wind and rain. 

How to Do It

Pinching is not a complicated process. The most important factor is timing. This practice is something that you can do with a tool, or your bare hands, depending on the plant. Here are some guidelines to follow when pinching your plants. 

Time your Pinching

Pinching a young seedling in a small brown pot indoors. A man pinches young leaves of a seedling with his fingers. The seedling has a pair of cotyledons and a pair of true heart-shaped leaves with finely serrated edges.
Timing is key when pinching— wait for a few leaves to appear.

You can technically pinch any time there is new growth, but there is a sweet spot in terms of timing. If you pinch too early, you can stunt the growth of your plant and end up with less than you started with. If you wait too long, your plant will branch high, and the central stem may be too weak to support it. 

It is best to wait until your plant has two to three sets of leaves, as you need a set of leaves left on the plant. The node, which is where the leaves sprout, is where the plant will produce buds. It is from these buds that the new branches will grow.  

Only pinch your spring-planted seedlings. For seeds planted in the fall, you don’t need to pinch. Seeds planted in the fall will naturally experience this process when they experience a frost. The newest growth is what freezes, and the plant branches from the next node down. Pinching your fall seedlings is too hard on them and can make them more vulnerable to frost. 

Don’t Pinch Mature Plants

Close-up of a young woman pruning lavender using green pruning shears in a sunny garden. The woman is wearing a light green dress and has black nails. The Lavender leaves, arranged in compact clusters along the stems, are narrow and linear. Atop the slender stems, lavender produces clusters of tiny flowers arranged in spikes that rise above the foliage. These flowers are purple.
Pinching lavender promotes fuller growth, but avoid woody stems.

Pinching mature plants will simply delay or inhibit growth. If you pinch a plant on woody growth, you may stop it from growing. A plant won’t typically branch from woody growth. You can also end up with leggy-looking plants that fall over because they are top-heavy. 

Lavender is an example of a plant that likes pinching and will look better if you do so with young plants. However, if you pinch lavender back to woody stems, you will end up with a significant shortage of flowers. 

Pinch in the Right Spot

Close-up of pinching a tomato plant in a greenhouse. A woman’s hand holds a young tomato shoot growing between two strong stems. The tomato plant presents itself with sturdy stems adorned with lush, serrated leaves that range in shades of vibrant green.
For clean, healthy branching, aim just above the node.

It’s important to pinch your stems in the right place so that it branches neatly and cleanly. You don’t want to leave a long piece of stem sticking up between branches. The cut stem will be more vulnerable to disease and will look unsightly as the plant matures. 

Branches form just above a node. Nodes are easy to identify because this is where the plant puts out leaves. If you look at a plant that produces aerial roots, the node is where these roots will grow as well. Essentially, the node is the juncture where a plant produces new growth. 

You want to pinch just above the node without damaging the buds where the new branches will form. Sometimes, you can see these tiny buds in the juncture between leaves and stems. This depends on the development of the plant. If these buds haven’t formed yet, don’t worry, they will. 

Pinching too close to the node can damage the buds, leaving you with a sad little plant. Pinching too far from the node leaves a vulnerable little piece of stem. This makes the small plant open to disease. You want to pinch just above the juncture of the leaves and stem. 

Pinch Gently

Close-up of a gardener's hand in a gray glove removing a young shoot from a mature tomato plant in a greenhouse. The tomato plant presents itself with sturdy, upright stems adorned with lush, serrated leaves that boast a vibrant green color. The plant produces clusters of plump, round fruits of red-orange color.
For precision, use your fingers or small snips delicately.

It’s called pinching because the best way to do it is with your fingers. You are pinching young shoots which are still soft and tender. It should be easy to simply pinch the stem with your thumb and forefinger, using your fingernail to sever the stem. If you’re nervous about doing this or feel more comfortable cutting with a sharper tool, a small pair of snips is ideal. This is a job for a fine tool. 

Some plants have tougher stems, and if you feel like you can get a cleaner cut with a small tool, go ahead and use one. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to pinch with your fingers. It’s just a practice that is often done this way because it is done when plants are young, on tender growth.

When to Do It

A pinched young plant in a garden against a background of moist brown soil. This young seedling has an upright, thin, hairy purple stem and two pairs of oval, smooth, green leaves.
Pinch above the first true leaves for optimal branching.

Your first pinch should happen with spring-sown seeds when there are at least two, but preferably three, sets of leaves. The first set of leaves a seedling produces are not true leaves; they are called cotyledons. Have you ever noticed that the first set of leaves looks different from the second? Allow two sets of true leaves to grow, and then pinch back to just above the first set of true leaves. In other words, the seedling will have one set of cotyledons and one set of true leaves after pinching.

For more branching, repeat the process after each new branch has produced at least two sets of new leaves. Pinch back the top of the stem to just above the node on the first or second set of new leaves. You don’t need to wait for a third set of leaves after the plant branches. Those starter leaves only happen on the initial sprout.

For plants that produce nodes close together, leave more than one set of leaves between the branch junction and where you pinch. If you pinch too many times, too close together, you can end up with a stunted plant and short stems. 

What Are the Desired Results?

Close-up of female hands harvesting sweet peppers in the garden. Among the lush bushes stands a wicker basket full of freshly picked red and yellow peppers. The Sweet Pepper plant, characterized by its bushy growth habit, features lush green foliage with smooth, glossy leaves. The fruits are bell-shaped with smooth, shiny skin.
Achieve a healthy, bushy plant for abundant blooms or fruit.

Your end result should be a plant with a nice, rounded, and shrubby shape. The additional branching will mean more flowers or fruit, and an overall more attractive and healthy-looking plant. The central stem should be short and sturdy. Blooming, though delayed, will be more vigorous. 

Which Plants to Pinch

Close-up of a gardener's hand in a gray glove pinching a small shoot on a tomato plant in a greenhouse with straw mulched soil. The tomato bush, a compact and robust plant, presents dense foliage with vibrant green leaves that exhibit a slightly fuzzy texture. These leaves are compound, pinnate, and consist of oval dark green leaflets with serrated edges.
Pinch young, branching plants for lush growth and abundant blooms.

It’s important to recognize which plants you should or should not pinch. Some plants do not respond well to this treatment, and you could end up putting a halt on blooming altogether. The type of plants to pinch are those that we typically consider cut-and-come-again bloomers. 

Many annual flowering plants benefit from pinching. A fair number of perennial plants benefit from pinching as well. Most herbs benefit from pinching, with the exception of dill. If it has a branching habit, pinching will cause the plant to branch more. Basil especially thrives with pinching!

The best way to determine whether a plant will benefit from pinching is to look at the stems. Soft, new growth is the type that you can pinch off. If the stem is tough and woody, it’s too late to pinch, or you will need to pinch closer to the top of the stem. This can cause the plant to become top-heavy and flop over if the new growth is too high up the stem. 

Some annuals that benefit from pinching include:

  • Zinnia
  • Coleus
  • Cosmos
  • Impatiens
  • Petunia
  • Marigold
  • Phlox
  • Sweet Pea
  • Basil
  • Snapdragon
  • Calendula
  • Tomato
  • Pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Squash
  • Pea
  • Bean

Some Perennials to Pinch:

  • Mint
  • Sage
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Dahlia
  • Lavender
  • Yarrow
  • Aster
  • Coneflower
  • Goldenrod
  • Joy Pye Weed
  • Penstemon
  • Bee Balm
  • Daisy
  • Sedum
  • Dianthus
  • Chrysanthemum

Which Plants to Avoid Pinching

Close-up of a hand touching a sunflower flower on a blurred green background of a sunny garden. The sunflower flower is striking with its immense golden-yellow disk surrounded by a crown of bright, cheerful petals that radiate outward in a spiral pattern.
For single-stem and rosette plants, skip the pinch entirely.

Avoid pinching plants that grow and flower on one central stem. You will remove the buds and inhibit the flowering of these plants by pinching them. Don’t pinch plants that grow from a rosette, either. As I mentioned earlier, skip pinching any fall-planted seedlings entirely. The shifting temperatures will achieve the purpose naturally. 

Some Plants to Avoid Pinching:

  • Poppy
  • Statice
  • Campanula
  • Celosia
  • Dill
  • Stock
  • Sunflowers
  • Delphinium
  • Alliumn
  • Anemone
  • Primrose
  • Ranunculus
  • Hydrangea
  • Dianthus
  • Astilbe
  • Peony
  • Strawflower
  • Hollyhock

Final Thoughts

Pinching, or tipping, is a useful pruning method. When it is carried out effectively, the results are stronger, more attractive plants. Perhaps the best result achieved from pinching is a dramatic increase in your harvest, of both flowers and fruits. Give pinching a try this spring. It may surprise you by how effective this practice can be in the garden.

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