Keep Plants Lookin’ Good by Pinchin’ Them!

07/24/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Flowers, In the Garden, Plant Care, Tips, Uncategorized

Russian-Sage-little-spires[We are well into July, and its elevated humidity presents the right climate to give growing things a much-needed pick-me-up. Landscape plants are somewhat scrawny, starving, and ready to lap up whatever the monsoons deliver. Coupled with the right food, water coaxes the best color out of our plants.

Feeding plants should be on every gardener’s July ‘To-Do List’. This is especially important for summer and autumn blooming plants. I put together a special blend of food for summer and fall bloomers called ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4. This unique blend of plant food encourages larger flowers on crape myrtles, Russian sages, salvias, butterfly bushes, roses, and all other perennial bloomers. Plants that look beat up from spring wind and early summer heat will rebound with just one application of this food. The monsoon rains will work it through rocks and fabric making it available to those hungry roots. Even evergreens appreciate a good dose to pump up their needles to a robust green.

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With blooming plants well fed, it’s time to pinch, deadhead, and prune. Without a gardener’s TLC flowers are perfectly happy to bloom once and go to seed. Even herbs prefer some pinching. Plants need to be trained to do the gardener’s will. (You would think after all this time my basil would learn to become bushy on its own!)

Pinch PlantsDeadheading – Flowers benefit from having their spent blossoms removed. This is called ‘deadheading’. If left on the plant, spent blooms will go to seed and stop producing flowers. Plants that are supposed to bloom repeatedly will often do so only if the old, dying flowers are removed. Even flowers that bloom only once per season benefit from deadheading. That’s because the plant can put energy into strengthening its core instead of producing seed. Some exceptions to this rule are plants like Astilbe or ornamental grasses, which bloom only once, but continue to look attractive as their drying seed heads sway in summer’s breezes.

Pinching – Some plants have very crisp, thin stems and can be deadheaded using our fingers. This type of deadheading is referred to as pinching. Coleus plants are grown for their foliage, not their flowers. Pinching the flowers off of a coleus encourages the plant to become bushy and full. Other flowers that can be pinched back include daylilies, salvias, and dahlias.

Prune PlantsPruning – Some flowers set buds along the entire stem, and this type of flowering stem should not be removed until all the buds have opened, bloomed, and then faded. Good examples are hollyhocks and snapdragons. A pair of sharp garden pruners makes it easier to cut cleanly through these larger stems.
When each flower is on its own stem, it is best to remove the entire stem when removing its spent flower bud. The plant looks better when the entire stem is cut away rather than leaving a gangly, headless stem attached to the plant. Pincushion flowers and daisies are candidates for this technique.

Confusing? Here’s a good video that simplifies the whole process.


Many fall-blooming perennials are pinched early in the season to induce more flower buds or to prevent the plants from flopping over when becoming too tall. Pinching plants like mums and asters will push their bloom time back a few weeks, bringing forth flowers in late September and October, when the rest of the garden is fading after summer.

To pinch fall bloomers, start by removing up to 1/3 of the plant when it reaches about 6″ tall. Repeat that process every 2-3 weeks, until the 4th of July. Now allow your plants to grow and set flower buds.

Coreopsis GarnetCoreopsis is suitable for deadheading by pinching, but the sheer quantity of buds and their close proximity to one another on each stem can make pinching a coreopsis tedious at best. With plants like this, it is easier to wait until the majority of buds have bloomed and then shear the entire plant back by half. It won’t take long for the plant to regroup and set many more buds for a second summer show.

The same sheering technique works for plants like catmint and hardy geranium that tend to bloom all at once and then deteriorate as the season continues. Again, shear them in half and fertilize with ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ to encourage new growth and many new buds.

When a plant’s older leaves start to look worn, you should prune the foliage back to where fresh new growth is witnessed. Many new gardeners can’t bear the idea of cutting back this hard during the growing season, but this tough love in the flower garden rewards us with plants that bloom over and over again.

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Free Gardening Class – This Saturday (9:30 -10:30 a.m.) our class will go into detail of all things related to roses, including proper deadheading for continuous bloom. We’ll talk about the best local varieties, care, pest control, and more. After this week’s class you will be a rose pro! Join us for an interesting, informative, and really enjoyable hour.

View the entire class schedule at Garden Classes.

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