Pinching, Pruning and Deadheading

Pinching, Pruning and Deadheading

Vegetables and
Annual Flowers

Except for tomato plants, which can be trained to grow in a number of different ways, most vegetable garden plants need little or no pruning. Flowers, however, are a different story.

Pinching and Pruning
Pinching and pruning refer to tasks that involve removing certain parts of the plant, usually to stimulate it to produce more flowers or achieve better form. Pinching back is usually done when the plants are quite small. This is done to encourage them to produce lots of side shoots and form a bushy, flower-filled plant. To pinch back, simply remove the growing tip using your thumb and forefinger. See sidebar for a list of flowers that benefit from pinching back.

Annual plants rarely need drastic pruning. By midsummer, however, some plants, such as petunias, will start to become leggy, with flowers concentrated at the ends of the branches. You can help the plant maintain a nice bushy form by pruning back one of the longest branches once a week or so. Prune way back to a set of leaves near the main stem; sprouts will form at the leaf axils, and these shoots will keep the plant bushy.

This is "garden jargon" for removing faded flowers from plants, and it’s an important part of keeping many annuals, including petunias, marigolds, and zinnias, flowering all summer.

Botanically speaking, the "goal" of annual flowering plants is to reproduce -- that is, to form flowers, achieve pollination, and subsequently produce seeds. Once seeds are formed, the annual plant has completed its mission, and it begins to die back. How can you keep the plant alive and blooming? By deadheading, you’re removing the developing seeds. The plant is tricked into producing more flowers, and more seeds, which you then remove ... and on and on.

Be sure to remove the developing seeds! On petunias, for example, it’s easy to make the mistake of removing just the petals. However, if you look closely at what’s left, you’ll see a small, pointed seed pod where the petals were attached. Be sure to remove this seed pod too. You can use your fingers to pinch off petunia flowers; however, you may need pruners to deadhead flowers with tougher stems.

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If you just pull off the petunia flower...
284a.JPG (8322 bytes)
... you'll leave the developing seed pod.

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Instead, snap off the stem
just behind the flower.

Well, we’ve covered most of the basics of plant maintenance in this class. The focus of our next (and final) class is troubleshooting, or identifying problems in the garden. Once we’ve identified some common problems, we’ll look at ways to manage them. See you then!

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Flowers that benefit from pinching back:

  • chrysanthemums
  • geraniums
  • impatiens
  • petunias
  • snapdragons

Don’t pinch back:

  • celosia
  • stocks

Pinching back coleus, a shade-tolerant plant grown for its colorful leaves, keeps the plant bushy.

Some flowers don't need deadheading to continue flowering all season long, including:

  • impatiens
  • wax begonia
  • nasturtium
  • alyssum

Nasturtiums will continue to flower even if you don't remove spent blooms.

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