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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.

Marigold is one plant that benefits from pinching when young. This practice results in a compact, bushy shape and more flowers (in the right growing conditions).

Marigold is one plant that benefits from pinching when young. This practice results in a compact, bushy shape and more flowers (in the right growing conditions).

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. Then 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
Basil
Coleus
Cosmos
Dahlias
Fuchsias
Impatiens
Marigolds
Petunias
Snapdragons
Sweet peas
Zinnias