How to Prune Woody Herbs

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Prune Woody Herbs

Annual tender herbs, including basil and dill, generally do not need to be pruned. Harvest as needed. But perennial herbs, such as lavender, oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary, often develop woody stems and need seasonal maintenance pruning.

When left to their own devices and in proper growing conditions, perennial weeds can turn into shrubs or ground cover mats. They can also grow long (or very stretched) legs and eventually tip over.

Careful pruning can improve the appearance and vigor of your herbs, keeping their size and shape in check. The most important thing is the tender pruning of spurs, a new growth that enhances the flavor of the grass.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pruning shears
  • Gardening gloves
  • Kitchen scissors


  • Mature herbs


Pruning Culinary Herbs

Most perennial herbs used for culinary purposes (as opposed to those grown for ornamental purposes) can be pruned simply by removing dead growth and then properly harvesting new shoots during the growing season.

Remove Dead Stems

In spring, wait until you see signs of new green growth on your herbaceous plant. Then remove dead or broken stems and spent flowers with pruning shears.

Cut Back Soft, Woody Herbs

Cut herbs like germ, marjoram, oregano, and winter snacks, in half in the spring, to remove old foliage that was not harvested the previous year.

Prune the Leaves

During harvest peak, regularly prune the top leaves of the plant, plucking them off with your fingers or kitchen shears. Vigorous growers may need a regular harvest every few days in mid-summer.

Harvest One to Two Inches of the Plant's Stem

Also during the peak of the harvest season, harvest an inch and a half of the plant's stem to allow it to grow two separate branches. This helps create more foliage and train your shape.

Deadhead Your Herb Plant

In late summer, remove your herbaceous plant by plucking old flowers and cutting off worn or wrinkled growth. Do this long before the low temperatures set in and the plants begin to fall asleep.

Pruning Ornamental Herbs

Herbs that are often grown for ornamental purposes, such as lavender plants, need special treatment to maintain their attractiveness. You don't want to cut them at the top or you will get an unnatural look.

Instead, follow specific pruning methods to keep them fragrant and attractive, as well as to help them survive winter conditions.

Pinch New Growth

Regularly cut back some of the new growth on any young plant to force it to establish a strong root system and release more branches.

Cut the Shoots

After the first flowers appear, cut the buds 2 to 3 inches above the woody base and just below the flowers.

Cut Back the Herbs to the First Set of Leaves

Constant blooming varieties can be pruned during the summer by cutting back down to the first set of leaves. Dry the herb leaves to make body products or use them in culinary dishes.

Shape the Plant

After the flowers fade, shape the plant by pruning it in a mound. Doing this every year will make a great ornamental addition to your perennial garden.
Stop pruning efforts in late August, as cutting the plant after this period can weaken it enough that it cannot survive the winter.

Pruning Tips

Herb harvesting can be done at any time during the growing season. But the act of pulling out tender new growth is very different from pruning the plant.

It's best to prune or cut back old growth in early spring as new growth begins to form at the base of the plant. A second pruning can be done just after the grass blooms, eliminating dead ends and dry, brittle growth. This type of mid-season pruning increases the vigor of the plant as it diverts its energy into growing fresh leaves and expanding its root system.

Even if woody weeds don't seem to need to be trimmed in spring, cut back the stems for new growth. But do not remove more than the top third of each rod.

Larger herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme don't require a lot of extra pruning during the growing season unless they've grown long or overgrown. If that's the case, shape them by pruning the plant up to a third. With proper annual pruning, your plant should have more green growth and flowers and have less woody "stem".

Don't prune too late in the season. Encouraging new growth at this time will hamper the plant's effort to transition into winter dormancy. Additionally, frost can kill young tender leaves, resulting in a stressed and weakened plant.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About Planting Herbs

Source: Learn To Grow

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