Pruning Herbs: A Simple And Straightforward Guide

Pruning herbs may be one of the most essential gardening tasks, but it is also one of the most simple tasks.

I’ll never understand why some authors complicate such a simple job, especially when all pruning herbs is, pinching and cutting!

As you grow in experience, you’ll find that you become more familiar and confident with the process. That’s when you start using the scissors without hesitation.

Instead of proceeding cautiously you’ll be excited to give your herbs a fresh look knowing that they’ll grow better afterward.

Pruning Herbs

During my first attempt at pruning my thyme, I took advice from a small manual, and I remember thinking to myself, “I just hope I didn’t kill it.”

A few weeks later, it grew back again, and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

If you are concerned about pruning your herbs, just remember this story and follow the instructions found in this guide.

Nearly all plants adapt well to pruning because it’s a naturally occurring thing. Harsh weather conditions and animals can trim some parts of the plant. In its turn, the plant compensates for its loss by revealing new growth.

So, what are the benefits of pruning herbs ‘intentionally’?

Three Reasons Why Gardeners Prune Their Herbs

Many people practice pruning intuitively. When they see a sick or dead leaf, they snip it away from the main plant.

Disease Prevention and Control

That intuitive and straightforward act mentioned above is important because it can stop the spreading of the disease from one part of the plant to another. So, an essential benefit of pruning is disease control and prevention.

Having said that, you always should keep a keen eye on your herbs. It’s preferable to inspect them daily and clip any diseased part as soon as you notice it.

Diseased Plant

By pruning your herbs regularly, you can also prevent their stems from getting overcrowded and creating a closed environment that can harbor dangerous fungal and bacterial organisms.

Better and Fresher Growth

Pruning herbs can stimulate better and fresher growth.

The moment you clip your herb, it starts to grow new stems in alternative places. This activity results in the growth of more foliage that has a stronger flavor than older growth.

When you start harvesting your herbs, you will begin to notice that small leaves somewhat taste better than the old ones.

Prevent Flowering

One more advantage of pruning herbs is stopping them from flowering.

In most cases, we don’t need the flowers of an herb. We are more interested in its leaves and stems. And many herbs can become bitter and flavorless when they bloom, especially basil.

Flower

In fact, flowering is the last stage of a plant’s cycle, and we really need to avoid that – pruning helps us to do so. Technically, we can maintain leaf production only all season as long as we stop them from growing flowers. 

When To Prune Herbs

Finding the right time to prune your herbs can be confusing, especially if you treat them all the same.

Before you start pruning herbs, you should classify them according to their “hardiness,” which has to do with their ability to survive in severe weather conditions.

Annuals and tender perennials, such as basil, can’t survive the cold weather and will probably die at the beginning of winter.

On the other hand, rosemary and some other herbs grow woody stems and are said to be “evergreen,” which means they can stay green during the winter.

But, how does that information help us in pruning?

Actually, once you know into which category your herb falls, you can decide when to prune it.

When To Cut Back Woody Herbs

Cut woody herbs back once per year.

If you’re growing your herbs naturally without using grow lights (artificial light), you should start pruning them in their second season in early spring and never at the beginning of winter.

Pruning Herbs

If you prune your woody herbs at the right time, you prevent them from growing blander woody parts.

When To Prune Annual and Soft Perennials

You can prune annual and soft perennials as you harvest them.

In other words, you can prune the herbs when you feel that they have grown enough foliage. And, you can prune your annual and soft perennials several times per year. 

You can also know when to prune tender herbs by looking at their flowering phase. If they’re about to blossom, you should pinch their flower buds off and harvest them to enjoy flavorful greens.

Ideally, you should harvest annual herbs for the last time before, or directly after the first light frost. If you don’t, you could lose the whole yield.

In case you’re growing herbs under unregulated conditions, it’s better not to heavily prune both tender and evergreen perennials many times in their first growing season.

How To Prune Your Herbs

The number one rule for pruning herbs is to cut back only one-third of your herb. In no circumstance should you cut your herbs to ground level.

You’ll find that tip mentioned in all pruning references. So, why is it so important?

Every plant needs a minimum amount of foliage to survive and grow. So if you prune your herb excessively, it won’t be able to grow again.

That is an important rule of thumb that you should remember every time you pick up your pruning tools.

How To Prune Evergreen Herbs

When pruning your evergreen herbs, avoid cutting the woody parts at the bottom. Instead, just take off the herbal pieces that you’ll be consuming.

herbs

Most often, the leaves nearer to the tip of the stem contain most of the oils and will be the tastiest anyway.

How to Prune Annuals and Tender Perennials

As I mentioned before, you’ll need to prune annuals and tender perennials multiple times per season. Harvest as many parts as you can from each herb without removing all the leaves.

chamomile

Four Crucial Tips To Prune Your Herbs Successfully

Tip #1: Hygiene

Bear in mind that as you prune, you need to be hygienic.

Rub your shears with alcohol before you start pruning and whenever you switch between herbs to avoid the spread of disease.

Tip #3: Avoid Finger Pruning

While some gardeners use their fingers to prune small herbs, I don’t advise you to do that unless your pinching off flower buds or small leaves.

Pruning using fingers can sometimes stretch and damage the stems of a plant. It can also create unwanted tears which can be an opportunity for pathogens to infect the plant.

Tip #2: Scissor Quality

It’s also important to use high-quality scissors, to avoid creating unwanted tears in your plant that will leave it susceptible to diseases.

Tip #4: Fertilize To Support Growth

Some newly pruned herbs need extra nutrients to be able to grow again.

Some gardeners recommend the use of complete fertilizers to enrich the soil with essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.

Pruning Herbs Must Become One of Your Regular Habits

I have made many mistakes in the past when it comes to taking care of my herbs, and underestimating the importance of pruning is one of them.

Take it from me; if you delay pruning for some time, you’ll be eating bland, woody and sometimes bitter herbs.

So, long story short, take care of your herbs and give them the cut they deserve!

Don’t forget to tell us about your pruning experience or leave any questions in the comments below!

Blogger, Gardener | + posts

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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