People get confused when we share tips on growing basil with them. One of the tips we share is pinching the top of the leaves off when the basil is in its early growth stage.
"Cut? Pluck? Where? Pinch?? How to pinch?" is the usual response that follows. Seems like they are only familiar with the idea of pinching someone rather than pinching a plant.
The Dictionary.com definition of pinching is " to squeeze or compress between the finger and thumb, the teeth, the jaws of an instrument, or the like."
Pinching is a form of pruning that encourages branching on the plant. It is is the act of removing an upper portion of a stem on an herb plant in order to encourage new leaf growth from the lower dormant leaf buds.
As long as there is growth above it, the lower leaf buds will not grow. But, if the stem above a leaf bud is removed, the plant signals to the dormant leaf buds closest to the missing stem to grow. Since a plant normally produces these dormant leaf buds in pairs, when you take one stem off, two leaf buds will start to produce two new stems.
This means that when you pinch a plant, you are removing the main stem, forcing the plant to grow 2 more new stems from the leaf nodes below the pinch.
So why do we need to pinch the plant?
By pinching the plant, you are forcing the plant into a fuller form. By the act of pinching, you can force the plant to grow twice as many stems and leaves. Pinching back is common, especially for herb plants where having more leaves is desirable.
In the example of basil, the basil will start to grow sideways into a fuller, bushier plant.
This also keeps the plant compact as the plant will focus on regrowing lost stems rather than height. Which is great, especially for herbs growing in Plantui.
So where and how do we start pinching?
So where does the term "pinching" come from? This term comes from the fact that gardeners usually use their fingers to pinch off the tender, new growth at the end of the stem. Ideally, you should start pinching or cutting the stem as close to the leaf nodes as possible.
Many people are afraid to pinch or cut their plants because they are not sure when and how to do it. This form of deliberate pinching should be done when the plant is small or when you are not harvesting much. Frequency of pinching can be every week or so and this will not damage your plant or herb. In fact, it is important to do so for the healthy growth of the plant.
On a side note, herbs such as mint, they need more than a pinch or a trim – cutting it right back will ensure a continuous healthy supply.
So start pinching your plants today and watch them grow!
Update (4/9/17): Basil plant pinched and started growing 2 more nodes!