How To Prune Rosemary: All You Need to Know

how to prune rosemary: woman cutting rosemary with a pair of scissors

Rosemary is a relatively easy-to-grow shrub, making it an ideal choice for any herb garden. It is an evergreen, perennial shrub with beautiful flowers. In addition, the pine-like scent and pungent flavor make the plant a popular ingredient in foods. It is relatively easy to grow and maintain indoors. In this article, we will tackle how to prune rosemary.

How To Prune Rosemary: Why Prune It Anyway?

A garden-grown plant can quickly get shabby and woody. This is where knowing how to prune rosemary comes in handy. Generally, these shrubs look after themselves, but after flowering, they can get bushy. Rosemary pruning promotes plant health and removes dying or dead branches injured by storms, falling debris, disease, or severe insect infestation.

The Growth Cycle Of Rosemary And When To Prune It

Rosemary is a drought-resistant plant and can tolerate a light freeze. The woody herb is most successful when grown from transplants or cuttings. The seeds are readily available, but they have a slow germination rate.

It rarely needs fertilizer, but you can apply it if the growth is slow or your plant appears pale yellow or stunted. Any fertilizer (either in liquid or dry form) is ideal as long as you apply it correctly. Fertilizer should never be applied directly to prevent leaf burn. Although rosemary is fairly resistant to most diseases and insects, you can use inorganic insecticides and fungicides when needed.

Once the plant grows to a desirable size, you can pick small branches without harming it. Harvest rosemary several times in a season, though you should allow it to replace the growth between harvests.

You can grow rosemary as an annual plant with a complete life cycle of 1 year. Or grow it as perennial with a life cycle of 3 or more years. In an herb garden, it’s often planted along with basil, sage, thyme, and lavender. Rosemary is relatively easy to grow indoors, especially in a pot.

Pruning the rosemary plant can be done during summer or spring. Pruning rosemary in winter or fall enables the plant to focus on growing tender and soft rather than hardening off. Ensure you get into the habit of pruning rosemary plants around the same time each year.

How To Prune Rosemary

Rosemary fully grown. It needs some pruning
Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Generally, this herb is easygoing and requires little care. However, if it overgrows, hard pruning might be necessary. This technique is most suitable during spring because it will be followed by a long growing season.

Before pruning, ensure your pruning shears are clean and sharp. Dirt or blunt shears can lead to ragged cuts, leaving your plant at a higher risk of bacteria and pests.

1. Use sharp pruning shears

Sharpen your older pair of shears or purchase a new set to get you started. Sharper blades give your plant a clean-cut, and branches will grow back stronger. Bypass pruners feature overlapping edges that tend to make cleaner and sharper cuts than conventional scissor-like shears. 

2. Remove faded flowers

If the herbs are large, start by trimming the spent flowers. Alternatively, you can pull them off by hand. Start with flowers that show signs of damage or discoloration and leave healthy flowers intact.

Generally, mature rosemary plants have delicate white, blue, purple, or pink blossoms that give them aesthetic value. The flowers are edible, so save a few blooms that may be in better shape.

3. Trim about 2-3 inches from the stem

Trimming your rosemary is hassle-free. Use your pruning shears to trim the stems at an angle. This helps in cleaning up overgrown offshoots. However, don’t cut below the lower leaves, as removing too much greenery can harm the foliage. As a result, the plant will grow woody branches.

4. Get rid of diseased or damaged shoots

Both indoor and outdoor-grown rosemary plants are susceptible to diseases and pests for various reasons. Aphids are the greatest concern and pose a severe threat to your indoor rosemary plants. These tiny insects suck nutrients, depriving the rosemary of nutrition.

Thrips are also a threat to rosemary. They cause leaf stippling and leave silvery spots on leaves. You may also spot spider mites that suck chlorophyll, nutrients, and water from leaves. This causes discoloration of the rosemary plant.

Root rot disease ruins the rosemary plant. Fungal infection or overwatering are two leading causes of root rot. The affected roots can spread the rot, potentially destroying the entire plant. If the plant turns yellow or wilts without a visible reason, it may have root rot.

If you notice any of these issues, cut stems that have been destroyed or are showing signs of fungal infection. More so, about two inches of pea gravel or sand at the base of the rosemary plant can prevent fungal diseases. This technique works by helping the spoil to dry out faster, preventing root rot.

5. Shape your plant as your desire

Be sure to keep the angle and depth of each cut consistent and clean to give the plant a well-manicured appearance but avoid too much uniformity. Rosemary is bushy, naturally, so it’s okay to have thicker spots. Some gardeners shape their rosemary plants similar to bonsai trees!

How To Prune Rosemary – Trimming Woody Shrubs

A newly pruned rosemary
Photo by Lachlan Ross from Pexels

1. Use loppers

Ordinary pruning shears are not tough enough to cut thicker branches, so you’ll need a heavy-duty tool like loppers to tackle thicker sections. Long-handled loppers help prune branches without disrupting the healthy, soft growth.

You’ll also need a pair of gardening gloves with a rugged texture to protect your hands from prickly leaves and rough wood. You may also need a small handheld pruning saw to trim large shrubs.

2. Cut the overgrowth

Be sure to cut any branch that’s no longer producing foliage or is dead. You can cut each branch a third of its size to thin it out. Take note that cutting the rosemary plant more than a third of its size could kill it off.

Wait for about 6-8 weeks, then cut the remaining offshoots. Doing heavy pruning in cycles ensures you don’t remove too much at once. The plant might end up being smaller than you need.

3. Cut off entwined shafts

Inspect the interior of the rosemary shrub for entwined shafts. When you find crisscrossing branches, pluck off one of the two branches. Opening up the interior enhances airflow, making fungal diseases lack the moisture they need to thrive. 

How To Prune Rosemary To Avoid Becoming Woody

It is perfectly okay for rosemary plants to get woody; it’s natural. Pruning the plant regularly, however, can go a long way in preventing it from becoming too woody.

Usually, stem growth occurs in spring and early summer. During the dormant season, the stems harden off and get woody. This prevents them from growing in length again. However, they continue to increase in diameter. Trimming discourages the young branches and leaves from overgrowing.

Watering the plant can also prevent it from becoming excessively woody, so ensure you feed and water your plants well, but don’t overwater them lest they rot. Generally, rosemary is a drought-resistant plant, so it doesn’t need too much water.

Ensure that the soil is well-drained. You can achieve good drainage by using sandy or stony soil at the base. Also, ensure that the planting container has a drainage hole.

Rosemary can tolerate heavy harvesting if done correctly. Always pick full-length branches but be careful when pruning. Trimming your plant too much and during the wrong season might kill it or make it woody.

How To Make Rosemary Bushy

How to prune rosemary and make it bushy

Rosemary is a versatile plant with tons of culinary and medicinal uses. Follow these tips to make your plant healthier, bushier, and fuller.

  • Pruning: Trim the plant through spring and summer and during late winter. This prevents the stems from hardening. Next, prune the faded flowers and cut off 1 inch of the stem. This encourages the plant’s stem to split into two, making it grow bushier.
  • Multiplying: Being an herb, it’s pretty easy to grow from cuttings. Snip them from the main plant and grow them in the same pot to make them appear bushy.
  • Pinching: Pinch the plant close to the leaf node to encourage it to grow two stems below the pinch. It helps the shrub grow bushier and fuller.
  • Well-lit location: Undoubtedly, rosemary loves light. So, keeping the plant outdoors or near a source of light for about 6-8 hours will make it thrive. And don’t get worried about too much light.
  • The less water, the better: Rosemary is a Mediterranean shrub that doesn’t need too much water. Ensure topsoil is completely dry and watering once a week is more than enough. Brown leaves are a sign of overwatering.
  • Refresh soil yearly: Replacing the old potting soil annually is an excellent idea to keep your herb lush, bushier, and healthier. It will also help you inspect the roots and snip away the rotten ones.

Conclusion

Rosemary is a trouble-free herb, but it requires regular pruning. Growing rosemary is a simple process when you follow our steps to ensure your plant stays healthy throughout its life cycle. In addition, knowing how to prune rosemary herbs will give you a plant that provides fresh rosemary sprigs of lovely flavor for your culinary creations.

We hope this guide on how to prune rosemary helped in making your rosemary healthier and bushier. We love to hear your tips and secrets in taking care of your rosemary. Share them in the comments below.

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I'm Jad, a biologist, blogger, and experienced indoor gardener. I am knowledgeable in plant biology, particularly in plant cultivation and propagation. I founded HerbsWithin.com in 2019 to share my knowledge in indoor gardening with passionate home growers.

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