Good in a pinch: Technique tip

If your garden is small, here’s a technique to keep certain plants from overgrowing it. If your garden is shady, it keeps plants from becoming leggy and floppy as they reach for the light. If your garden is both, listen up. And, by the way, this technique also increases the number of flowers and can delay bloom times.

All you need are two very sophisticated garden tools: your thumb and your index finger using a technique called pinching out. That’s the act of pinching to remove the top cluster of leaves at growing tips of each stem.

It’s useful for fall-blooming members of the Compositae family — which have daisy-like flowers such as the chrysanthemum in this example. It works really well on asters, and I have also used it on Helenium.

All you do is pinch to remove the tips of each flowering stem on these multi-stemmed plants. Do it first when the plants are a few inches from the ground (in April in the GTA), and continue to pinch out the new stems every couple of weeks until mid-June. Then stop to let the plant set flowers.

I find that using my hands, rather than a pair of scissors, helps me feel my way around so that only the fewest number of leaves are removed. However, if you’ve left it a little late the first time, you can pinch back the earliest or particularly leggy growth by as much as half, as long as you leave some leaves on the stem. Even doing it once will help create a more compact specimen.

Pinching causes each stem to branch out at the leaf axil (where the leaf meets the stem) with new flowering tips. The result is more numerous flowers on a plant that’s more compact and bushy. So there you go: a good trick, at your fingertips.


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