“Plants typically will grow in a single stalk at the beginning of its life, and will branch or produce buds when they become more mature,” says Liam Heeks, shop manager at Brooklyn plant shop Tula House. “You are able to stimulate growth and encourage early bushiness, more rapidly, by removing the tip of the plant. Pinching is simply removing the tender new growth of a plant at the end of a stem.”
Despite the name, plant pinching doesn’t actually involve your fingers. “I recommend using sterilized shears ($45) or scissors to avoid any contamination. If you would like to use your fingers for the removal, make sure to do so with clean hands,” says Heeks.
Heeks explains that there are many plants that can benefit from pinching. “Herbs, fruiting trees, tropicals, flowering shrubs, etc will all benefit from pinching,” he says. In the houseplant world, it’s used on plants that get etiolated or ‘leggy’ like the Hypoestes phyllostachya (polka dot plant), pothos, Philodendron cordatum, and Hedera helix (English ivy). “This will help reshape the plant after having longer, more sparse, stems. We use the term etiolated or leggy when the plant is reaching for the light and grows longer stems, with less frequent leaves. Plants show this trait typically when they are grown in less than ideal light conditions.”
Plants that don’t branch (think: spider plants, orchids, cacti, and palms) shouldn’t be pinched. “Palms, for example, will not survive if the terminal bud is removed. Pruning a palm is to remove old dry [and] yellowing leaves and this will not promote branching,” says Heeks. “Regular pruning will promote the better distribution of energy and nutrition throughout the plant.”
Pinching is best performed on younger plants. “When pinching is done on more mature or woody plants, it can be detrimental to the growth of your plant,” says Heeks. “Once your plant has developed a few pairs of leaves on the stem, it can be ready to be pinched. I would recommend starting when you have at least two to three sets of leaves, before pinching.” You can prune your plants anytime, but when you’re pruning to stimulate growth by pinching, Heeks says that’s best to do during the growing season.
Once you’ve identified a plant you’d like to pinch, it’s time to get pinching. Follow Heeks’ instructions below.
How to pinch your plants
1. Sterilize your shears or scissors
Heeks stresses the importance of cutting your plants with sterilized tools. According to Gardening Know How, you can sterilize your garden tools by using a diluted bleach ($17) mix (nine parts water to one part bleach) isopropyl alcohol ($15), or household cleaners like Lysol ($11).
2. Start pinching
When pinching, focus on removing the top layer of new growth. “Depending on how many stems there currently are on the plant, will determine how many pinches you are able to do,” says Heeks. “Each stem will only allow one pinch. If there are multiple stems, you can pinch them all. Just make sure to always pinch above the node, where the leaf connects to the stem, and remove as much of the internode stem, stem between leaves, as possible.”
3. Snap a picture
“Once the plant has been pruned, I always like to take a picture of the plant so I can monitor its progress,” says Heeks. “If the plant was very leggy it may want to be in a sunnier space. The cut stem will most likely push out two branches from the cut point and you will hopefully see this within the first couple weeks after pruning.”
Depending on how long your cuttings are, you can try to propagate them into new plants:
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