Should Marigold Seedlings Be Pinched Back?

Pinching plants or seedlings is when you remove their central stem, and it’s generally recommended to make plants healthier. While cutting off parts of a plant might seem counterintuitive to the plant’s growth, it’s actually a good thing as it forces the plant to grow two stems in its place, producing more leaves and blooms. Not all plants need this type of pruning, though, so you might wonder if you need to pinch back marigold seedlings. 

Marigold seedlings should be pinched back. This enables them to grow healthier, increase the number of their flowers and make them bloom for longer cycles. Since marigolds can grow too tall, pinching them back early on will also make them grow bushier.

In this article, I’ll explore the benefits of pinching back marigold seedlings, when you should do so, and how to do it correctly so that your marigolds thrive in the garden. I’ll also provide some tips on how to maintain the bushiness of your marigold plants. 

Why Marigold Seedlings Should Be Pinched Back 

One of the biggest problems that you might encounter with marigold plants is that they can become leggy, which is when the plants grow tall and thin instead of becoming full and bushy. 

While this can occur for various reasons, such as if the marigolds aren’t getting enough sunlight and are trying to stretch in the direction of it, it’s not ideal and shouldn’t be ignored. It prevents the marigold plants from growing thick, strong stems. Instead, the plants become weak or thin, which makes them more susceptible to breaking or wilting. 

Common reasons why you should pinch back marigold seedlings include the following: 

  • You’ll force the plant to grow double the amount of its stems, which helps to make the plant become fuller and more attractive. 
  • You’ll extend the plant’s blooming cycle. This is beneficial because instead of your plant having one phase of flowering, you’ll enjoy bursts of flowering several weeks apart. 
  • You’ll enhance your marigolds’ appearance. Instead of the plant having one area of growth, it will have more and take on a uniform appearance. 
  • You can grow another marigold plant from stems that you’ve pinched off. You just have to root the stems!  
  • You’ll make the plant stronger against the elements. Encouraging the plant to grow bushier makes it more compact, which makes it stronger to withstand harsh environmental factors, such as strong winds. 
  • You’ll make the new branches grow stronger and have longer stems. This makes them suitable to be picked off the plant without compromising its growth or appearance. 

How To Pinch Back Marigold Seedlings

When pinching back seedlings, you can use your fingers. However, if you have a lot of pinching back to do, such as if you have many marigold plants, you should use a gardening tool instead, as it will make your job easier. 

I’d recommend using shears, such as QMVESS Pruning Shears, which are available from Amazon. They’re eight inches (20.32 cm) long, which makes them ideal for pinching back or pruning small plants. Their blades are sharp to make clean cuts, and they have ergonomic handles with quality springs to prevent hand strain.

Once you’ve got the right tool, here are the tips to follow when pinching back marigold seedlings so that you encourage your plant to grow healthier and bushier. 

  • You should pinch your marigolds early in the growing season. When your marigolds reach approximately six inches (15.24 cm) in height, you should pinch them early in the growing season so that they will grow large flowers. Keep an eye on your plants so that you pinch them back before they’re about to get flower buds. 
  • Pinch the plant as close to its leaf nodes as possible. Make sure you don’t damage the small buds underneath, as Napa Master Gardener Column reports. To do this properly, cut the top of the seedling’s stem in the spot just above where the leaf connects to it. 
  • You should pinch back marigold blooms that are spent. This encourages new flowers to grow on the plant, bearing in mind that most flowers stop growing after they have produced seeds through floral growth.  
  • It’s recommended to pinch withered or spent flowers once a week. This encourages the plant to grow throughout the summer. It also prevents the plants from producing seeds, which is what you want because the plants tend to stop flowering after they go to seed. 
  • Cut out the central stem. This encourages the marigold plant to produce better-quality stems, and it also encourages other branches to grow healthier and create a bushier appearance. If you don’t do this, the growth will happen from just one stem, which will cause the plant to become too tall and leggy.
  • Pinch out the top pair of leaves. While this might seem to be counterintuitive to the plant’s growth, it actually encourages new leaves to grow. After a few weeks, you’ll see new growth appear in the place where you pinched off the marigold plant. 
  • Make sure you start pinching marigolds when the plants are young. This encourages the growth of thicker plants from early on and will prevent you from having to fix their legginess as they grow. 
  • Pinch back any stems that grow taller than others on the plant. This prevents the plants from getting a scraggly appearance as they grow.

You may wonder if it’s possible to bury leggy marigold seedlings instead of pinching them back. Check out my article to learn if you can: Can You Bury Leggy Marigold Seedlings?

Mistakes To Avoid When Pinching Marigold Seedlings 

Now that you know the best ways in which to pinch back marigolds, ensure you don’t make any of the following mistakes, which can damage the plant or be detrimental to its growth. 

  • Be careful not to damage tender buds on the plant. If there are buds on the plant, be mindful of them, especially ones that grow at the base of the plant leaves. They won’t grow properly if damaged during pinching. 
  • Don’t pinch back your plant again when it’s become bushy. This will interrupt the plant’s blooming cycle. 
  • Be careful not to cut at the point where the leaves connect. This could cause you to remove the entire bud that was supposed to become a new stem.  
  • Don’t discourage plant growth. Avoid removing all the side shoots on the plant as they won’t grow back, and this will prevent your plant from being able to branch out as it grows.
  • Avoid pinching the marigold plant back more than once or twice. If you pinch back the plants too much, you risk the plant delaying its formation of buds. 
  • Don’t pinch back plants when it’s cold or wet. The weather should be sunny and dry without a lot of wind. This will ensure that the cuts on the plant will heal, and this also decreases stress on the plant. 

Other Ways To Make Your Marigolds Bushy 

If you want to encourage your marigold plants to grow bushier, pinching them back is just one method that should be followed. Here are others that you should do regularly. 

  • Use a water-soluble fertilizer. You should feed your marigolds every month. That said, don’t give them too much, as it will weaken the plants and cause them to produce fewer flowers. 
  • Keep them in sunny areas. Whether you have stunning marigolds indoors or in a greenhouse, make sure that they receive enough sun. If they’re next to a window, turn the plants so that they won’t only grow in one direction. Lots of daily sunshine will prevent the marigolds from becoming too thin or leggy. 
  • Don’t forget to deadhead their flowers. Otherwise, your plants won’t flower continually. You should pinch off the flower head with your fingers, also remembering to remove the seed pod which forms behind the flower.
  • You don’t have to worry about giving marigolds fertile soil. This prevents the soil from being too nutritious, which can cause leaves to grow on the plant but prevents blooms. 
  • Prune the marigolds annually. Use shears to remove approximately two-thirds of each stem on the plant after it’s completed its blooming cycle or before lots of new growth is about to emerge. This is regular maintenance that will keep your plant healthy. 
  • Prevent planting marigolds in soggy soil. Compacted soil holds too much water, which makes your plants become waterlogged. Make sure the soil has good drainage, which you can achieve by mixing in compost. I’d recommend Dr. Earth Fertilizer and Soil Organic Bud & Bloom Fertilizer (available on I love it because it promotes root establishment, so plants will grow more buds and blooms. 

Final Thoughts 

If you have marigolds, you should pinch back their seedlings to encourage growth on the plant and lengthen its blooming cycle. When pinching back seedlings, there are some important tips to bear in mind, such as the following: 

  • Pinch the plant close to its leaf nodes. 
  • Remove spent or dead flowers on the plant. 
  • Don’t pinch the plant back more than once. 
  • Pinch back stems that grow taller than others to prevent a scraggly plant. 
  • Maintain the general health of your plant so that it grows and becomes bushy.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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