After nurturing seedlings for weeks or filling containers with carefully selected herbs and flowers, it can come as a shock that you need to pinch off their heads. Or their flowers. Yes, it hurts, but for many leafy herbs, flowers and a few vegetables, pinching is essential to grow good crops.
A form of pruning done on tender young stems, pinching resets the maturation process by forcing the plants to resume leafy growth. The new branches emerge from nodes along the main stem that look like little buds. When you pinch back a stem, two new stems will grow from the node below the amputated tip.
Boost Yields of Sprouting Broccoli
Special varieties of broccoli grown for tender baby broccoli spears should be pinched as soon as the first central head begins to elongate, even if the plants are small. Pinching out the first head helps keep the plants uniform while encouraging the development of numerous side branches lower down on the plant. Ten days after this pinch, the real harvest of sweet-stem broccoli begins. Twice a week for more than a month, you should be able to gather handfuls of little heads for fresh eating or freezing.
Prevent Leafy Herbs From Flowering
Basil has one serious flaw in that it wants to flower more than it wants to produce flavorful leaves. The best way to persuade basil to stay leafy is to pinch the plants back starting when they are about 6 inches (15 cm) tall, or just above the fourth node on the main stem. The plants will quickly recover and produce a lush set of leaves and perhaps a few flower spikes. Pinching basil regularly can keep many culinary varieties productive all summer. Heavy-blooming types such as tulsi basil and Thai basil can be pinched weekly to keep them actively growing.
Many gardeners opt to grow interesting mints in containers to prevent their spread, and an early season pinching is needed to promote a bushy branching habit. Don’t hesitate to gather sprigs after plants start growing vigorously, because mints love to be pinched. The same goes for marjoram, oregano and other leafy herbs. The longer you delay flowering by pinching, the more sprigs you will have at the table, and in your spice cabinet.
Pinch Out Potatoes
The question of whether or not to pinch potato blossoms has been discussed among gardeners for nearly a century, and the consensus is that yes, the flowers should be dispatched to the compost. It won’t hurt to let potato flowers stand for a few days, but do pinch them before they can start developing fertile fruits, which look like little green marbles. According to research, plants that set fruit produce fewer potatoes of lower quality compared to plants that do not bloom or have their blooms removed.
Tip-Pruning Raspberries and Blackberries
The stems of thorny berrying plants can’t be pinched with bare hands, but the same operation done with pruning shears is called tip pruning. It has several advantages. Tip pruning of raspberries, blackberries and other bramble fruits in spring will push out growth of heavy-bearing lateral branches. Tip pruning bramble fruits also makes the berries easier to pick, and bushy plants are simple to cover with netting if needed to protect ripe fruit from birds. Use pruning shears to cut back canes to shoulder height or less, depending on winter damage and the natural growth habits of the plants. Don’t get too carried away, because last year’s new canes will produce this year’s berries.
Make Annual Flowers More Floriferous
From marigolds to petunias, most of the annual flowers sold as bedding plants have been bred to pop a blossom or two at a young age. Customers are more likely to buy plants in bloom because we know exactly what the flower will look like. Good enough, but whether you buy your seedlings or grow them yourself, the best thing you can do for summer annuals is to pinch off the first blooms as soon as the plants are in the ground or containers. Pinching blooms and buds from annual flowers, coupled with setting their cramped roots free in fertile soil, sends them back into vegetative mode for a few weeks, but then they come back with twice as many blooming branches. In terms of flower production, one pinch can have season-long benefits with big color annuals.