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How To Prune Your Herb Garden

Loppers are some of the most versatile gardening tools, and every gardener should have one! But what are loppers used for, and which is best for you? How to use this tool for efficient cutting and pruning? We’ll answer all that and more with this guide.

The Importance of Pruning Herbs Properly

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One might think that pruning hurts the plants, but it’s the opposite. Trimming herbs’ leaves is essential to maintain the plants’ healthy foliage. It keeps the foliage abundant by promoting continuous growth.

In the case of herbs, you’ll have to prune the leaves and some parts of the stem to encourage new growth. Cutting back the leaves also inhibits the spread of diseases. Overgrown herbs are more vulnerable to mildew growth because the dense foliage affects the air circulation, trapping excessive moisture. When air flows freely around the stems and leaves, there is little chance for fungal growth.

Herbs could also become leggy or top-heavy if you’ve been forgoing pruning. If you are not pruning the herbs at all, they will bloom and die back on their own. Pruning extends the herbs’ life while keeping their flavor potent and fresh for longer.

The Best Time to Prune Herbs

Tender and woody herbs should be pruned when dry so prune these plants during mid-morning, just as the morning dew has evaporated. Pruning causes fresh cuts on the foliage, and exposure to moisture can slow down recovery. You can cut the flower, leaf, or stems, depending on what you intend to use.

Flowering herbs: If you are harvesting flowers like lavender and chamomile, prune the flowers at mid-season, just as the flowers open or when the buds start appearing all over the plants. Try not to overdo the pruning because the plant could end up bearing fewer flowers. Limit the harvest to new growths and cut back no more than ⅓ of the plant to boost branching and encourage more blooms.

Tender stems: If you are harvesting herbs for their tender stems, like basil and mint, prune the herbs as soon as they grow several sets of leaves. By pruning these herbs regularly, the plants will produce more branches, improving the plants’ shape and boosting future harvests.

Woody stems: Herbs with woody stems grow much slower, so it’s not necessary to prune these herbs often. Prune only to harvest the leaves and maintain the plants’ shape.

Annual herbs: Herbs like dill, cilantro, and chamomile are reseed after every growth cycle, and if you want to keep these herbs, leave the seed heads in the garden at the end of the harvest season. They’ll grow back. Do note that certain herbs have underground rhizomes like chives. These herbs could become invasive, so flower heads must be cut at the end of the season to control their spread.

Perennial herbs: Woody perennials may require hard pruning late in the fall or early spring. Try cutting back up to two-thirds of the plants during the late fall so the plants can grow deeper roots during the cold months. Wait until several hard frosts before pruning to encourage new growths. Pruning in the spring season, starting from the base, will also stimulate the growth of mature woody herbs.

How to Prune Your Herb Garden

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For annual, leafy herbs, these are ready to prune when they’ve grown three to four sets of leaves. Pinch back the stems using your thumb and index finger and cut about ¼ inch above a leaf using a hand pruner. Do not twist or pull as you pinch because this will strip the stems. Pinch out any flowers or flower buds.

Cut at a slight diagonal angle across each stem for woody herbs, just above a leaf node using a sharp bypass pruner like the ECOgardener hand pruner. This helps reduce damage to the node. Remove up to two-thirds of the old growths and do not cut into the older, woodier part of the plant – limit the pruning to the new growths. Hard pruning is fine in the late fall or early winter.

Stop pruning about eight weeks before the winter’s first frost to give the plants time to harden off before spring. Hardening prepares indoor herbs to become outdoor herbs. If you’ve been prepping your herbs for the pending climate change, give them time to harden off; otherwise, they might die from shock.

Leafy herbs like basil will die quickly after blossoming. Pruning ensures a steady supply of herbs, so prune by cutting the leaves where they meet the stem. Woody herbs like rosemary and thyme must be trimmed so they don’t stop growing new leaves and become woodier. Pinch some of the leaves back as soon as you see new growths.

For herbs with large leaves, it’s best to prune from the top, not the bottom. Herbs with big leaves need a strong base so they don’t bend. Plants absorb sunlight, so they need their big leaves to grow. So only harvest the top and leave the bottom to grow.

Tipping is a pruning technique that involves cutting 1 to 2 inches off the plant stems. The exposed end will split and grow into two separate branches. This technique allows you to speed up the growths of the plants until they become bushy. And denser foliage means a more abundant harvest.

Important Pruning Tips

  • Never prune more than one-third of the plant, especially young herbs. This could end up doing a lot of damage to the plants.
  • Herbaceous herbs require no fancy equipment for pruning other than a pair of scissors, but woody herbs are best pruned with a hand pruner. Mature herbs are best pruned with a bypass pruner. Heavy-duty garden clippers are not necessary for pruning herbs.
  • Limit pruning of woody herbs like thyme, sage, and rosemary to once per year, while herbaceous herbs like oregano, sweet fennel, savory, mint, and bee balm to several times in the growing season.
  • The fastest growing herbs are basil, dill, and mint – these should be pruned regularly to maintain their thick foliage.
  • Do not rip off stems or leaves; cuts must be clean to prevent diseases. Pinch unwanted flower buds or stems carefully; never crush these.

Herbs make a wonderful addition to a garden. They’re incredibly beginner-friendly and space efficient too. Start your gardening journey by shopping for our herb kits and other gardening essentials here.