Pinching & Deadheading Plants

Perennials, annuals & flowering shrubs can often have the flowers pinched or deadheaded to encourage more blooms plus healthier and bushier growth! This simple task can make a huge difference in your plants appearance and bloom production. Read below to learn about both easy gardening tasks.

Difference Between Pinching & Deadheading Plants

Deadheading plants is the practice of cutting off dead, spent or wilted flowers on a plant. This makes the plant look tidier and also encourages the plant to put its energy towards making more blooms!

Pinching plants is similar, but more aggressive and for a slightly different reason. When someone pinches a plant, they are cutting off the tips of the stem, further than you would when deadheading. Doing this helps encourage the plant to put its energy towards other blooms, but also helps the plant create more stems and grow to be bushier.

Deadheading Plants

Unless you have picked plants that will drop their flowers on their own softly and quietly, you might want to deadhead. In the picture below the shriveled petunia flower needs someone to simply pluck it off and discard it. Even discarding it onto the ground is perfectly fine. 


Why Deadhead Spent Flowers?

1. Removing the flower before it sets seed encourages the plant to keep blooming. If you deadhead, you get more flowers. It is as simple as that.

2. Shriveled flowers are ugly. In particular, white flowers look very icky once shriveled and large flowers look plain gross. Thus, a white, wilted hibiscus flower is the worst of the worst. Deadhead them!

3. If you "pinch" the entire stem where the flower has bloomed, you are deadheading spent flowers, but also encouraging the stem to put forth new "bushy" growth. This helps the plants from getting "leggy", tall and spindly stems that fall down in the wind. Classic mums and annuals such as cosmos and even climbers like sweet pea will benefit from a little pinch deadheading throughout the season. Stop deadheading and pinching around mid-July to make sure you get to see the full flower show before frost hits.

When Should You Not Deadhead?

1. If you want the plant to set seed, leave those flowers alone and let the plant follow its natural course.

2. If you purchase a plant that is sterile, it will continue to produce flowers regardless of whether you are picking those flowers or not because it is desperately trying to set seed (even though it cannot). This is why many new hybrid plants are sterile! Flowers! Flowers! Flowers!

3. The closer you get to winter and frosts, the less you want to mess with your plants. You do not want to encourage fresh new growth before a frost and you want to leave foliage and stems to protect the crowns of plants over winter. Let nature be at that point.

One Last Note

If you pick flowers a lot, you may not need to deadhead! If whatever happens to be in bloom in the garden usually comes inside with you for bouquets and you are constantly cutting stems, you are also pinching and deadheading. You can even pick greens from your fall mums for bouquets and win-win, you are keeping it bushy! The moral of the story is to use your plants. Flowers are meant to be enjoyed and given, not left to shrivel and die.

Pinching Plants

Pinching plants almost seems kind of mean doesn't it? That poor plant has been working and working to produce buds with beautiful flowers within, and you are just going to pinch them off? Really? It's not nice!

It's actually good to pinch plants (most of the time). Here is why; some plants produce one main flower and several smaller flowers on the same stem. Leave them all there and they will all produce flowers, but the little guys will be wimpy. Pinch them off and the plant devotes all its energy into the one main flower, making it bigger, badder and more beautiful than ever.

To pinch plants, simply pop the top off the stems. Most of the time, you can clearly tell which flower is going t provide the biggest bang for your buck. Or which stems are smaller and leggier than others.


Here is that same plant after being pinched. A week later the flower buds left on the plant will be blooming and bigger than ever. Just stunning and worth a little pinching now and then.


What Plants Should You Pinch?

Try this technique on other plants that bud several smaller flowers next to a main stem, such as peonies (shown above), roses, apples and various other fruits. Tomatoes, zinnias, and other multi-branching flowering plants also benefit from the treatment.

When Shouldn't You Pinch Flowers?

Pinching directs energy, so in this case you are directing energy to one singular flower. The rule about the 4th of July applies to fall blooming plants like mums and asters. You want to pinch their foliage from mid spring through July 4th so that the plant's energy is redirected into making more stems. This will result in a later fall bloom date and a bushier plant. Pinch these plants after July 4th and you run the risk of them not blooming before frost hits hard.

Chris Link Profile Pic

Author Chris Link - Published 10-26-2021