'Topping' or 'pinching'

terrin(5A)April 15, 2006

I've read as extensively as possible about this practice and regardless of which term is used, it refers to the practice of eliminating the central leader of the plant in order to promote lateral growth and a bushier plant, which is what I am trying to achieve. And I know this is not the same as disbudding which serves to eliminate flowers rather than foliage growth. However when I look at the dahlias I have under grow lights in BIG 10" peat pots (which I plan to plant directly into the ground after frost risk is gone), the plants are about 8 inches high, but with lots of branches shooting out every which way etc., and yes, there is a central leader/stem, so am I okay to just pinch the central leader and ignore all those shoots everywhere, or do the lateral branches need to be pinched as well. It's a bit confusing and any tips (no pun intended), would be appreciated. I'm growing some of them in containers too, and would like to sacrifice height for shorter, bushier plants given that they are supposed to reach about 4 ft. high and are Dinner Plate size. Thanks so much for any advice you have for pinching/topping.

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Poochella(7 WA)

Here's an article that explains the pluses and how-to's of disbranching. I did it one year but can't report any different results because I didn't pay attention to the results! I think the most important thing is to top/pinch the central leader, strip the bottom-most leaves for air circulation, disbud the little side buds for a better main flower and leave the rest to Mother Nature.

My experience is that even with topping a 4 ft plant, it's still going to be a 4 ft plant, but with more laterals fully developed to form more flowers. Not sure if that is truth or not, but I've not been able to turn 4 footers into 3 footers ever.

Here is a link that might be useful: An article on disbudding/disbranching

    Bookmark   April 15, 2006 at 10:21PM
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jroot(5A Ont. Canada (near Guelph))

What you are proposing is exactly what I do when I want a bushier plant. Pinch off the leader stem, and leave the others to grow. One last year was in continuous bloom, and quite bushy. A spectacular sight to behold.

Good article, Poochella. How are your wee plants coming?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2006 at 10:25PM
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The leader stem...is that the one directly in the middle?
I have Dahlias in pots grown from bulbs...and some are already falling over.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 7:07AM
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Thanks Poochella, I never thought about dealing with the lower leaves. The article was extremely helpful (as was your advice).


    Bookmark   April 17, 2006 at 7:37AM
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Once you get 3 sets of lateral leaves OR the plant is about 12-18 inches high, pinch off the terminal or middle bud. This is know as "stopping".

    Bookmark   April 17, 2006 at 8:07AM
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Poochella(7 WA)

Aren't Topping and Stopping the same thing then?

Here's a link to some photos. I wait til the plants are over a foot tall- maybe 15 inches and reach in, snap off the central growth. Just be careful not to disturb the two side nodes preparing to grow on either side of it.

Keep your thumb and pointer nails sharp- see those fingernails in these photos? They are there for a good reason LOL. Makes it a lot easier to top/stop/disbud if you have good nails to help you. Also try to do this in early a.m. or evening when the plants are juicy and firmer-easier to break off things.

Here is a link that might be useful: Toppers

    Bookmark   April 17, 2006 at 12:50PM
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clob(So Cal)

Not sure if this is the right thread but...

One of my dahlias has three stems growing out of the ground. I'm in San Diego and planted them about six weeks ago. In my area, we plant them in hole about 10" down and then keep adding soil after every couple inches of growth until they hit ground level. All of my other dahlias just have one strong stem.

This one seems to think it's special. It's now about 18" high and has huge leaves and resembles a small shrub. I'm wondering if I should cut off two of the stems coming out of the ground. Will having three stems prevent future growth by overloading the plant?

My goal is not to grow one or two huge flowers. I'd rather just have a nice well-rounded plant with lots of small flowers so it fits in with its neighbors.

So what do I do with three stems? To cut or not to cut, that is the question....

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 8:36PM
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So, I have a question. If I get my Dahlias from the nursery in containers and they are already blooming. Can I still top or pinch to generate more lateral growth? Also, is is acceptable to pinch/top with shears as opposed to snapping the top off? I have really big hands and one of the instructions is not to disturb the lateral buds (which I may invariably do because of the size of my hands). Thanks!


    Bookmark   January 30, 2007 at 1:45PM
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If they are already blooming in the container then there is no need to top the plant any further. Usually these are smaller, low growing types and no further pinching is required. You can use a tool to pinch but just make sure the shoot doesn't start to grow again which is true with using your fingers too.

More than one shoot--Each shoot that grows out of the ground will have it's own set of tubers underneath and if you don't dig your tubers every year in San Diego or anywhere in the South or West coast, the amount of the tubers under the ground will grow quite large. Sometimes keeping two shoots is desirable in case one runs into trouble and dies. After the plant is well on it's way growing I would pinch the additional shoots off and only grow one. You can grow another plant with the shoot you pinch off. Just put it in some potting soil in some bright shade until it stands up again.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 5:16AM
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