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Seedlings: To Pinch or Not To Pinch

Growing plants from seed, whether with an early start indoors or directly in the garden, can be the simplest way to acquire uncommon flower and vegetable varieties not typically offered as transplants from a garden center. What's not always so simple is knowing whether to pinch, or cut back, those seedlings to achieve better growth and shape.

tomato seedling

How to pinch back seedlings:
Wait until the seedling has developed several sets of true leaves (don't count the cotyledons, or seed leaves, that appeared when it first sprouted).

Use your fingertips or a clean, small pair of sharp scissors or pruners to snip off the top of the seedling's stem just above the point where a leaf or set of leaves connect to it. Don't pinch right at the point where the leaves connect, or you may remove the bud that will become a new branch. Aim for just slightly above that point.

New stems will form and grow and develop more leaves, at which point you can pinch those new stems back the same way, too, to keep creating a bushier shape.

Stop pinching when you are satisfied with the shape the plant is taking, so that the stems can then continue to mature and create flower buds.

Seedlings that benefit most from pinching:
Sweet peas

Shown: A tomato seedling, which generally does not require pinching for its best growth and form.
Browse seed collections, seed references and seed-related tools at

Learn all the ins and outs of starting plants from seed with the downloadable online workshop recording "It Starts With a Seed."

Making sowing seeds and transplanting delicate seedlings a breeze with the precision tool the Planting Dibber from Clarington Forge.