Cutting Back Annuals For Shape and Control

This container of coleus is leggy and falling over and needs pruning.

Coleus cut back to encourage new growth and improve shape

This coleus had its tallest stalks cut back by 50% about three weeks ago to prevent legginess. This procedure will need to be done several times more before frost to keep the plants from falling apart.

Lots of rain can cause annuals to flourish. But, many times they might grow too much. If this is the case with your annuals like zinnias, petunias, geraniumns, sun impatiens, coleus, etc. (but not angelonia, as it will grow but oftentimes not rebloom), you need to cut them back. How much? In the case of the coleus shown above they were just too tall and falling over, so severe pruning was required. Evaluate your plants and prune accordingly with the future in mind. Petunias for example respond well to severe pruning, but if they are not too leggy you might just need to pinch the tip of each branch to encourage new foliage and flowers. In weather like we have been having, marigolds can fall apart. So if that is the case with yours, cut the spent bloom stalks back to where the flowering branch intersects with another stem. This will make the plant fuller and bloom more. So evaluation of how much you need to cut your plants back is critical for late summer and early fall flower displays. Remember after pruning you will need to fertilize the pruned plants and keep them watered to encourage new growth. Of course another option is to remove and replant, but that is not always the best choice.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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