How to prune herbs

Written by sierra rose
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While most herbs don’t need regular pruning to grow, keeping your garden groomed will maintain plant shape and encourage healthy growth. Pruning woody herbs like rosemary, sage, lavender, thyme and tarragon can prevent plants from getting leggy and overgrown. Even soft perennials like mint can be reinvigorated with some light shaping.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Bypass pruning shears
  • Lopping shears

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  1. 1

    Lightly prune—but do not shape—woody perennial herbs in early spring, shortly after new growth occurs. Remove any dead growth with pruning shears. Use lopping shears for extra leverage if you encounter very thick stems (on large, scraggly rosemary plants, for instance). Take care to ensure you only remove dead wood, as cutting live pieces may damage or kill plants.

  2. 2

    After herbs bloom in spring or summer, you can shape them. Wait until flowers fade; however, do not wait too long after bloom, or you run the risk of damaging new growth that formed on old flowers.

  3. 3

    To shape, clip the soft stems of woody and non-woody perennial herbs by up to one-third. Cut just above leaf nodes approximately 3 to 5 nodes down the stem. Annual herbs like basil can be cut completely to the ground each fall, as they will need to be replaced the following year (parsley, a biennial, can be cut to the ground in its second year).

  4. 4

    Though it’s not necessary, you can lightly prune herbaceous stems throughout the year to maintain plant shape. Remember to regularly deadhead all herbs by pinching off flowers to encourage healthy growth.

Tips and warnings

  • Always prune herbs in spring or summer to avoid encouraging new growth just before plants go into winter dormancy.

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