Here's how to pinch snapdragon seedlings to encourage branching and more flowers, and how to propagate the cuttings for even more plants!
If you grow snapdragons from seed, eventually you'll need to pinch them back. While it feels wrong to cut off that new growth, it actually makes a better plant!
Pinching snapdragons encourages the plant to create two new side shoots at the base of the cut, right above a leaf node. This results in a bushier, sturdier plant with double the flowers!
If you don't pinch your snapdragons, you'll typically end up with a single stem and flower. While it will bloom sooner than pinched plants, it won't be as full.
Some flower farmers leave their snapdragons unpinched to allow for a longer first stem and earlier bloom time. Once the first flower is harvested, that cut is considered a "pinch" that encourages more side branches to form and bloom.
But if you're growing snapdragons for the garden, you'll want to pinch them before planting. After the first stems have finished blooming, you can deadhead snapdragons for another flush of flowers!
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When to pinch snapdragons
Wait until your snapdragon seedlings are 3-4 inches tall with at least three sets of leaves. Some of mine are over six inches tall, but I wanted to wait until some of the shorter ones caught up before I gave them all a haircut.
You don't want to wait too long, or you risk cutting off the flower buds. This is more of a concern for shorter types, but I'm growing the taller Potomac and Costa varieties that can get three to four feet high!
How to pinch snapdragon seedlings
You can use your fingers to pinch off the top growth, but I prefer to use these gardening scissors instead. The narrow tips allow you to get closer to the leaf node without damaging the surrounding foliage.
Cut above the second or third set of leaves. My seedlings were various heights, so I pinched the taller ones further down to match the height of the shorter ones. Keeping them a similar height will allow them all to have equal access to sunlight without shading each other.
Some seedlings were already developing side shoots at the lower leaf nodes. While these may branch out on their own, the plant will usually focus all its energy on the main stem.
Pinching forces the plant to switch production efforts to these side shoots. I'm not pinching a few of the shorter seedlings that have these side shoot buds just to see how they do.
After just a few days, you can already see new side shoots on either side of the cut.
Propagating snapdragons from cuttings
It can be disheartening to look at your pile of cuttings after pinching all your snapdragon seedlings. All that hard work wasted...
But rather than tossing them all in the compost heap, you can try propagating your snapdragon cuttings instead! You could end up with twice the number of plants for just a little extra effort.
The easiest way to propagate snapdragons is in water, although you can also stick them in soil. I picked out the longest stems, and placed them in water along the edge of this shallow dish. It's actually a kids' plate from IKEA that we've kept around even though our son is well past the toddler stage! 🙂
The lip of the plate keeps the foliage out of the water, so the leaves don't rot. You can also use propagation tubes, but I find it easier to top up the water in one tray rather than lots of tiny tubes. Plus, you could fit dozens of cuttings around the edge of the plate without taking up a lot of space.
Keep your cuttings at room temperature in indirect light for a week or two, checking the ends for roots and keeping them submerged. Once you see the white roots emerge, just pop them into a pot and let them grow!
Now that I've pinched my snapdragon seedlings and let the cuts callous over, I'm starting to harden them off outside. After a week or so, they'll be ready to go out into the garden!