Garden Care: Annuals

Pinching Back Annuals

Annuals will flourish when provided with the best possible growing conditions. However, there are a few simple care techniques that will help increase and control their growth.

Picture of purple flowers, ivy-leaf geraniums.
Ivy-leaf geraniums will grow even more
when pinched back correctly.

To encourage plants to fill out, remove the growth bud at the end of the main stem when the plant is in its rapid growth stage that precedes first flower bud formation. For bedding plants, the best time to do this is when you're planting them out in the garden. They're at a good stage of growth and, in addition, the removal of some of their foliage will help balance any root damage they may suffer in the transplanting process. Plants grown from seeds sown directly in the garden should be pinched back when they're 3 to 4 inches tall.

Simply pinch out or snap off the last inch or so of the main growing tip. This will redirect the plant's energy from this single shoot to numerous latent side buds -- there is a latent growth bud located at the node (the point on the stem where each leaf is attached).

Several days after pinching, you'll see several small shoots pushing from the remaining stem. These will grow into a cluster of stems to replace the original single stem. The plant will be shorter, stockier, and fuller than if no pinching had been done. It will also be neater-looking, more compact, and have many more branches on which to produce flowers. A second pinching can be done two weeks after the first one if an even fuller plant is desired.

Knowing how to pinch back your annual flowers is only half the pinching you'll need to do to really encourage continuous blooming throughout summer. On the next page, we'll give you easy-to-learn tips on deadheading your annuals.

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