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While “pinching back” my Phlox paniculata about three weeks ago, I realized some may not be familiar with the term “pinching back.”

Gardening, like many other things, has its own language. Sometimes, we just assume everyone knows what is being discussed. 

Pinching “back, out, or off” all refer to removing the tip of the growing stem back to just above a node, where leaves appear, on the stem. This is usually done to promote a bushier plant; more stems can mean more blooms. Sometimes, it’s done to reduce the height of a plant, and this can prevent the need for staking in windy conditions. 

Chrysanthemums will have lots more blooms in the fall if stem tips are pinched out a few times before mid-July. I like to use July 4 as the final pinching date because I can remember (sometimes) holidays. The cottage-style, old fashioned, loose mums are coming back, and they will also need pinching. 

If planted in a protected area, and weather permits, it’s possible to have your own mums for the Thanksgiving centerpiece. 

Other fall blooming plants that need pinching back to promote branching are Asters and Joe Pye Weed. Flag Day (June 14) is the date that I use to be reminded to pinch back these plants. I do it only once, just to promote more blooms, because New England Asters, Tartarian Asters, and Joe Pye Weed seem to enjoy towering over other plants. Maybe they are proud to be showing off all those butterflies that have stopped to visit them. 

Some plants, like Dahlias, can be forced to have larger, showier, blooms by having side shoots and lateral buds pinched out, leaving one central bud. This gives the plant a large bloom instead of many small ones. 

Pinching back is not just for fall flowers. We could say it’s for almost all flowering plants. That includes many vegetables and herbs. Just think how gangly that basil would be without pinching back. Of course, many of us are constantly pinching back and using our edible herbs.

Another time we need to pinch back, or out, is when a variegated plant sends out green leaves or stems. I have a sentimental Variegated Sedum that will send out a green stem from time to time. The green stem must be taken out completely or the entire plant could revert to green.

Now, the really neat thing about pinching back is it’s a way to make new plants.

Yes, that stem tip can be rooted in a short time (for some plants). Unlike a seed, it will produce a plant just like the original. Rooting hormone may be helpful. I didn’t have it with me this spring, but it didn’t seem to matter. 

Some of us garden by the moon signs as our parents did. I don’t know if either of these helps, but I do think weather makes a difference. A mild, cloudy day will always give me a better success rate. Making sure to protect and water the cuttings is necessary. It’s not OK to propagate and sell patented plants. 

Happy gardening.

Gardening Partners is a non-profit founded in 2003 to serve Dickson County with gardening education and advice.  Readers may submit gardening questions by email:, on the website:, or by mail:  PO Box 471 Dickson TN 37056



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