Pinching conifers

We have learned how to manage the growth of deciduous trees and shrubs by shaping them by clipping. Is it possible to do the same with conifers? It turns out you can. But we use another tool – pinching young shoots. When and how to pinch conifers, we tell in the article.

Pinching conifers

Pinching is one of the ways to form a dense and lush crown in conifers

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Why do I need a pinch

Let’s just say that pinching conifers is not at all a mandatory procedure. The plant feels great without it, forming a crown of natural outlines. But there are situations when external intervention is indispensable.

In what cases is pinching used?

  • When it is necessary to restrain the growth of a tree in height and / or width.
  • If, due to the uneven development of branches, bald spots appear in the crown and this place needs to be thickened.
  • If the plant is damaged during the winter (broken branches, deformed crown).
  • To maintain the silhouette of the plant, to maintain and enhance its density.
  • To prevent incorrect crown formation in young, recently planted plants.

Pinching is one of the main methods of growing bonsai dwarf trees. But the art of bonsai is a whole system, which, in addition to pinching young shoots, includes other techniques: pruning adult branches, choosing buds, plucking needles, and tying and stretching branches.

Types of pinching

  • Continuous pinching – uniform shortening of all young shoots by analogy with shearing deciduous plants.
  • Removing the central conductor in each whorl – instead of one continuation branch, several will grow and the coniferous paw will turn out to be more magnificent.
  • Pinching the longest growths – you can control the growth of branches and redirect energy from stronger shoots to weaker ones.
Molded pine

To keep the crown of such a pine tree in shape, it is enough to pinch young growths annually

General rules for pinching conifers

  1. Conifers can begin to pinch at any age. For example, a spruce tree has reached 1.5 meters in height and you want it to stay that size. Or you got an area with already mature plants that need to be given a neat shape. But if you initially want to get a dwarf spruce, you need to start pinching as early as possible.
  2. The optimal time for pinching conifers is when young shoots are fully formed, but the needles have not yet opened. For different breeds, these dates are slightly different, but on average they fall on the end of spring – beginning of summer.
  3. To get a neat and symmetrical crown, you need to pinch all the shoots – both the main and the side ones.
  4. How much to pinch depends on the decorative tasks. It is usually recommended to remove at least 1/3 of the shoot, and leave at least 1/4.
  5. It is better not to cut the shoots, but to break them out so as not to damage the needles on the future crown of the branch. The needles live from 2 to 5 years, and if you cut them in half, they will not grow back and will look untidy all the time.
  6. Having begun to pinch conifers, it is advisable to do it every season. If you skip the procedure for a year or two, the decorative effect will disappear.
Pinching conifers

Before starting to pinch conifers, assess the amount of work and your willingness to do it annually

Features of pinching depending on the breed

Conifers include several plant species with different types of needles and growth patterns. Consider the timing and technology of pinching the most common breeds.

Scots pine and mountain

Pines have a pronounced apical growth type. The central conductor always grows out of a bud located on the crown of the shoot; another 3-4 growths move away from it, forming a whorl.

Young shoots, outwardly similar to candles, grow back by the end of spring. They are recommended to be broken off at the moment when the shoot has already been freed from the scales, but the needles still remain pressed.

During this period, the buds for the next year have not yet been laid – they will begin to form a little later, when the needles open. And if you pinch the plant in time, it will perceive the place of the break as a new crown.

All “candles” need to be shortened: the largest ones are stronger, the weakest ones are smaller. The shorter the shoots you leave, the thicker and more magnificent the crown will be.

The pinching points do not need to be covered with anything. A drop of resin will appear at the site of the fracture, which itself will disinfect and tighten the wound.

Pine pinching time

The optimal time for pinching pine is determined by the state of the “candles”

Norway spruce and blue

In spruce trees, young shoots grow differently. Most of them, like in pines, are concentrated on the crown, but some of the growths are scattered along the entire length of the branch.

It is believed that the shoot is ready for pinching when its size reaches 1–2 cm, but the needles have not yet opened. According to the calendar, this time falls on May – early June.

You can use two methods to shorten shoots:

  • pinch each of them;
  • cut off part of the branch with an increase, but make sure that there are young shoots on the remaining part that will continue it.
Pinching blue spruce

In spruce, the growths on the crown and developed branches are shortened more, less in the lower part and inside the crown


Pinch the cedar if it is necessary to suspend the growth of the main shoot and stimulate the formation of lateral branches. To do this, remove the growth point at the crown. This is done in the spring – in April-May.

If the tree does not take root well, grows slowly, is sick, it is better not to resort to pinching.

Young cedar shoot

This is how a young cedar shoot looks like, the growth of which can be stopped by pinching the crown

Thuja, juniper

Shearing and pinching of thujas, junipers and other plants with scaly needles is done to maintain the outline and thicken the crown.

Since these breeds are actively growing all season, you can cut and pinch them in spring and summer. It is best to do this at the beginning of summer, when all the buds have blossomed and the young needles are clearly visible. The second haircut is carried out in August, when young shoots begin to lignify. This will encourage branching for the next year.

In a juniper, to restrain growth, it is enough to pinch young growths and thereby redirect the plant’s energy to the development of lateral shoots.

Thuja haircut

Unlike other conifers, thuja actively grow scaly leaves all season

To pinch or not to pinch conifers

Among gardeners, there are many opponents of pinching conifers.

They consider the main disadvantage of this technique to be too much time expenditure, which is increasing every year. At first it may be several dozen shoots, but over the years they will turn into hundreds, or even thousands.

The second minus is the mandatory procedure. If you have already begun to pinch, please do it every year, otherwise all the work will go down the drain, and the plant in a few years will turn into an untidy “broom”.

If you are not experienced with pinching conifers, we recommend starting with one or two plants. This will help you understand the technique, gain experience, and estimate the time spent. And independently draw a conclusion – to pinch or not to pinch.