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Garden Q&A: Pinching mums a necessity

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
Asters are one of the plants that benefits from pinching.

Q: I would like to know if I should cut back my mums. They get so tall, and when they are in bloom, the plants separate and fall over.

A: Pinching your mums in early summer is a necessary chore for preventing the floppy plants you describe. It also serves to delay their bloom time by a few weeks and enables you to have a colorful garden well into the fall.

Here's how to do it: Head out to the garden on a dry morning (working in wet conditions can spread foliar diseases) sometime before July 4. Pinching mums much later than the Fourth delays the blooming so much that you may not get any flowers at all. I usually do mine in mid- to late June.

Remove one-third to one-half of the total height of each stem by either cutting it off with a clean pair of pruners or “pinching” it off between the pad of your index finger and your thumbnail. Though it may seem drastic to remove so much of the growth, the new shoots that emerge create a stockier, shorter plant that is better able to support the flowers. Pinching also yields more flowers because each of the terminal stem portions you remove creates two new stems — each of which will produce flower buds.

Commercial mum growers complete the pinching process two or even three times to create the gorgeous pots of mums gracing garden centers every fall.

Though it isn't an appropriate practice for all perennials, there are a handful of other plants that benefit from an early summer haircut. Performing the same pinching process on some or all of the stems of the following perennials also serves to create stockier plants with more flowers: Garden phlox, monarda, asters, fall-blooming sedums, veronica, ironweed, balloon flower and goldenrods.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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