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A Guide to Pinching Seedlings

May 28, 2024


As spring blooms with promises of new beginnings, gardening enthusiasts eagerly sow seeds, nurturing their dreams of lush greenery and vibrant blooms. Among the many techniques to ensure healthy growth, pinching seedlings stands out as a good horticultural practice.

Benefits of Pinching Seedlings

Pinching, the act of removing the terminal growth of a young plant, may sound counterintuitive at first. However, this simple technique yields a plethora of benefits:

  1. Encourages Bushier Growth: By removing the apical bud, pinching redirects the plant’s energy to lateral buds, stimulating branching and resulting in a fuller, bushier plant.
  2. Enhances Flowering: Pinching promotes the development of additional flower buds, leading to more abundant and prolonged blooming periods.
  3. Controls Height: For compact and well-proportioned plants, pinching helps control excessive vertical growth, ensuring a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.
  4. Improves Air Circulation: Dense foliage can create a humid environment conducive to pests and diseases. Pinching allows for better air circulation, reducing the risk of fungal infections and pest infestations.

Step-by-Step Guide to Pinching Seedlings:

Step 1: Wait for True Leaves Wait until your seedlings have developed at least two sets of true leaves. True leaves are those that resemble the mature leaves of the plant, distinct from the initial seed leaves (cotyledons).

Step 2: Identify the Apical Bud Locate the apical bud, also known as the terminal bud, at the top of the main stem. This is the central growth point responsible for vertical elongation.

Step 3: Pinch the Terminal Growth Using your thumbnail and forefinger (or small sharp scissors), gently pinch off the apical bud. Be careful not to damage the surrounding foliage or lateral buds.

Step 4: Monitor Growth Keep a close eye on your seedlings as they continue to grow. You may need to repeat the pinching process if new terminal growth appears.  Keep pinching until desired height/shape of plant is reached.

Pinching is easier to stay on top of when growing from seed.  When buying your flats of summer annuals you may benefit from pinching off the first set of flowers to encourage a fuller plant.  It is a mentally difficult thing to do for even seasoned gardeners.

Happy gardening!

Rob Dzurec

Rob Dzurec


Dzurec has been with the Cleveland Botanical Garden since 2013 and oversees various gardens including the Gateway garden, East Boulevard garden and Potager garden. Dzurec earned his BS from Miami University and an associate degree in Horticulture from Kent State University.

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