Pruning Herbs

Pruning herbs doesn't have to be complicated. Follow this definitive guide in pruning herbs and by constant practice, you'll be a pro in no time!

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

I’ll never understand why some authors complicate such a simple job—especially when pruning herbs is no more than pinching and cutting!

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

You’ll no longer proceed with caution. You’ll be excited to give your herbs a fresh look, knowing they will grow better afterward.

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

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

Does the thought of pruning herbs concern you? Just remember this story and follow the instructions found in this guide.

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

So, what are the benefits of pruning herbs “intentionally”?

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Three Reasons Why Gardeners Prune Their Herbs

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

Disease Prevention And Control

Diseased Leaf

That intuitive and straightforward act is essential. It can stop the spread of the disease from one part of the plant to another.

So, an essential benefit of pruning is disease control and prevention.

You should always 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.

You should prune your herbs on a regular schedule. That way, you can also prevent their stems from getting overcrowded. That could create a closed environment harboring 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 more robust flavor than older growth.

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

Prevent Flowering

In the garden blooms parsley

One more advantage of pruning herbs is it stops 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.

Flowering is the last stage of a plant’s life cycle, and we really need to avoid that—pruning helps us to do so.

Technically, we can maintain leaf production all season. We just have to 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.” That 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. They will likely die at the beginning of winter.

But rosemary and some other herbs grow woody stems. Gardeners call them “evergreen,” which means they can stay green during the winter.

But, how does that information help us with pruning?

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

When To Cut Back Woody Herbs

bunch of Thyme

Cut woody herbs back once per year.

Let’s say you’re growing your herbs naturally, without using grow lights (artificial light). You should start pruning them in their second season in early spring. Never begin your pruning at the beginning of winter.

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

Fresh Basil ready to harvest

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. You can prune your annual and soft perennials several times per year. 

You will also know when to prune tender herbs by looking at their flowering phase. You should pinch their flower buds off if they’re about to blossom. Harvest them to enjoy flavorful greens!

In an ideal world, you should harvest annual herbs for the last time before, or right after, the first light frost. If you don’t, you could lose the whole yield.

You may grow your herbs under unregulated conditions. If so, don’t heavily prune both tender and evergreen perennials too often 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 essential rule of thumb you should remember every time you pick up your pruning tools.

How To Prune Evergreen Herbs

Fresh rosemary, close up, selective focus

Avoid cutting the woody parts at the bottom when pruning your evergreen herbs. Instead, take off the herbal pieces you’ll be consuming.

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, 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.

Four Crucial Tips To Prune Your Herbs Successfully

Tip #1: Hygiene

Parsley Herb Plant

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

Rub your shears with alcohol. Do this before you start pruning and whenever you switch between herbs. Rubbing alcohol on them should help prevent the spread of disease.

Tip #2: Avoid Finger Pruning

While some gardeners use their fingers to prune small herbs, I don’t advise you to do that. The only time that’s okay is when you’re pinching off flower buds or small leaves.

Pruning using your fingers can sometimes stretch and damage a plant’s stems.

It can also create unwanted tears, which can be an opportunity for pathogens to infect the plant.

Tip #3: Scissor Quality

pruning shears

It’s also vital to use high-quality scissors. That will help you avoid creating unwanted tears in your plant, leaving it susceptible to diseases.

Tip #4: Fertilize To Support Growth

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

Many gardeners recommend using complete fertilizers. They will 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. Underestimating the importance of pruning is one of them.

Take it from me; if you delay pruning for too long, 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 and leave any questions in the comments below!

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Jad Daou

Jad has always been passionate about growing plants. When he finished high school, he majored in biology, which makes him very knowledgeable about agriculture.