Pinching annuals to promote dense growth

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A few weeks ago, I posted about deadheading annuals, a simple, but essential task to encourage container plants, like petunias, to bloom heavily and for the longest possible time. As I was deadheading last week, I noticed that some of my petunias are looking a little leggy. Maybe even (gasp!) scraggly? Deadheading spent blooms won’t fix that, so it was time to get pinchy. Pinching annuals by removing their overgrown and leggy stems will spur fresh growth, thicken up plants, and encourage a new flush of blossoms.

pinching annuals

These petunias were getting a bit leggy and in desperate need of pinching back.

Pinching annuals: which plants respond to pinching?

Not all annuals should be sheared, but those that trail – like petunias, million bells, and lobelia – appreciate a mid-summer haircut. The easiest way to shear is to prune the entire plant back by about one-third, but with this method, you’ll sacrifice a few weeks of flowers. However, once the plant has had a chance to re-grow, it will quickly be smothered in new blooms.

Related Post: Summer Loving – Tips to keep your gardens in top shape

The ‘how-to’s’ of pinching annuals:

I understand if you don’t want to sacrifice your beloved flowers – even for a few weeks (I live in a very short season). However, you can still take advantage of this type of pruning by selectively removing one-third of the leggy stems, pinching or pruning them back to a higher set of leaves or nodes. Pick the stems in front of the plant, leaving the back ones alone. Essentially, you’re layering the plant. The back, unpruned stems will continue to flower, while the front, pruned ones will thicken up and reward you with new, dense growth and a heavy flush of blooms.

One last tip: After pinching or shearing, give your annuals a dose of fertilizer to help them re-grow and re-bloom as quickly as possible.

Pinching annuals

Oh so scraggly! Time to pinch back these stems to thicken up the plant and encourage more blooms.

Related Post: A shady dynamic duo!

pinching annuals

I removed one branch, and then pinched off the top of the other.


pinching annuals

Just a week after pinching, the same stem was pushing out fresh growth.

How do you keep your containers in top shape all summer long?

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6 Responses to Pinching annuals to promote dense growth

  1. Cindi says:

    Great article as I am in need of doing something with my leggy petunias. Would love to see a video of thos process for a large pot of petunias like this one.

  2. Michele mooney says:

    Thanks for the timely advice.????

  3. Fred C says:

    Thanks for the timely reminder. The petunias in my flower boxes have needed a good haircut for a couple of weeks now but kept putting it off. Just finished trimming and fertilizing.

  4. Hi Niki
    Would it be OK if we reprinted this article in our local Hort newsletter? Along with the credits and website, of course.

    • Hi Rhonda.. thank you for asking! Yes, that would be absolutely fine.. can you please add “Excerpted with permission from” and if it’s an online newsletter, a hyperlink to the article? Thank you! 🙂

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