The grand scheme of nature is to reproduce. Whether humans, animals or plants, nature has been designed to replenish itself. With vegetables and fruits, you must have the bloom in order for the finished product, food, to grow.
In the flower garden, you want to enjoy the beauty of the blooms you have been nurturing for months. However, with herb plants, it is totally different. The taste of the leaves will grow bitter if the plant is allowed to bloom, and secondly, you will not get as large a harvest as you hoped for, and that’s why you’ll want to pinch your plants.
Pinching your herb plants is basically a process of pruning. A plant’s natural tendency is to reproduce. As a result, as soon as an herb plant produces a bloom, it sends a message down the stem to stop producing leaves so the bloom can use most of the energy from the plant. The stem also stretches up to the sun and begins the process of blooming and producing seed. As a general rule, you want to prevent blooming in herbs as it is the leaves you want to use, not the fruit produced by the bloom.
Another result of the plant blooming is that the remaining leaves on the plant will turn bitter tasting which was not the goal of growing your own herbs at all. Pinching is an easy way to prevent the plant from blooming. When you remove the upper portion on the stem right before blooming, the stem tells the plant to hurriedly let the new leaf buds start forming new stems in order to get a new bloom going. In this way, you can encourage new stems to grow thereby increasing the size of your plant and the number of leaves produced.
How to Pinch
Learning how to pinch plants is important. Just take your thumbnail and forefinger and pinch the stem off. Later in the season or with woody stems, you may need a small pair of scissors. Basil needs to be pinched the most often as it is a fast grower. You will look for new growth at the base of leaves and pinch the stem off just above where the new leaf buds are located. The plant will then start two new stems with the new leaf buds.
Repeat this process every week or so. You can really pinch basil back a lot without damaging the plant. This will allow you to increase your harvest of basil tremendously. With other herbs, you do not need to prune as often.
Keep an eye on the plants and pinch whenever you notice new blooms about to form. You may not want to pinch these as far down. Just pinch off the stem right below where the bloom is forming. With many herbs, natural harvesting when you need to use the herbs will be enough.
Learning why you need to pinch your herbs will allow you to reap a bigger and more flavorful harvest from your herb garden.