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For many gardening enthusiasts, pruning non-woody, herbaceous plants like annuals, perennials, herbs, and vegetables are not a common practice. However, a little “haircut” at planting time can make a huge difference in the health and vigor of your plants. Pruning influences growth, the abundance of flowers and foliage, as well as the potential number of vegetable fruits produced in your garden.  The “prune as you plant” technique is when you snip off all the flowers from annual seedlings as you’re handling and planting them. This might sound sacrilegious; however, it helps them establish themselves quicker and assures an explosion in the number of flower buds forming on each plant; many more than on seedlings planted with flowers left alone.


Gardeners love their flowers; especially those that flower for extended periods of time, like annuals. Mother Nature doesn’t want to cooperate; she makes flowers for the “continuation of the species,” for seed production.  We have to trick her by deadheading plants to keep them constantly producing new buds. As flowers begin to fade, snip off the spent flower just below the Ovule (seed producing organ) where the Receptacle meets the peduncle (stem.) This prevents your flowers from “going to seed” and forces them to produce additional flower buds. It will also encourage your plants to fill out, producing multiple stems with many more flowers. This method of controlling seed production extends the flowering and growth cycle of all annuals and perennials. *You don’t deadhead fruiting vegetables because the Ovule becomes the fruit.


Pinching young plants back is a form of pruning that encourages branching. This forces new stems to grow outward from the central one, and causes the plant to fill in and produce many more buds than those left alone. This technique is correctly done by pinching the top of each stem right beneath the tip or “terminus bud” or further down the stem just above a leaf node.  Simply, place the stem between your thumb nail and the first digit of your forefinger to sever and remove. A pointed flower shear or scissors works equally well for those of us that may be thumb nail challenged. With herbs, an occasional harvesting or pinching will help maintain a healthy, full, appearance throughout the growing season. As I mentioned above, most fruiting vegetables generally do not require pruning, but, an initial pinching of vertically growing plants like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes will force more stems and flowers to form; you’ll get more of what you’re looking for!

An early season pruning or pinching to shape and fill out your flowering plants and herbs, followed up with some judicial deadheading every few weeks will increase both the number of flowers and their duration in your yard or container gardens. Practice makes perfect and will help provide you with a beautiful garden this year. If you have any questions feel free to stop by Van Putte Gardens and one of our green thumb specialists will show you the art of pruning, deadheading and pinching.

Success with your Gardening; Naturally!

Written by: Rick Stecher, Garden Center Manager

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