Pruning is something that scares a lot of gardeners. The thought of taking a pair of shears to your plants and cutting them seems counterintuitive. The truth is that pruning is actually good for your herbs, and encourages them to grow back bigger and stronger. That said, too much of a good thing can always be harmful, so it’s best to prune only when needed. Today, we’ll look at how to prune herbs, along with how often you should do so and learn about the reasons we do it in the first place.
Pruning Vs Harvesting
Throughout this article we’ll refer to pruning, but harvesting is going to be nearly the same thing. Technically, pruning is removing parts of the plants for growth purposes while harvesting is for using afterwards. Practically, these often achieve the same goal and a good harvest can be done in place of pruning. Even when you prune, it’s a good idea to save the bits of the herbs you remove as you can often use them afterwards. Keep this in mind, and don’t get too caught up on the terminology as they are very similar when talking about herbs.
What Is Pruning?
Pruning is the act of selectively removing parts of your plant. You might remove dead or dying parts, remove flower buds, or simply trim back excessive growth. When pruning herbs, you might do any, or all, of the above.
Pruning is an essential part of any plant’s growth, herbs included. Keeping your plants pruned encourages new growth, and helps your plants better utilize their energy. It also helps keep them healthy and more resistant to disease or pest infections.
Why Do We Prune Our Plants?
Before we look at how, let’s look at why. There are numerous good reasons to prune your herbs, and each of these is important to keeping your plants happy and healthy.
Firstly, pruning helps to ensure that plants don’t grow too wild and overcrowd their neighbors. This is especially important for herbs as they are often planted in close proximity to each other and can grow quite rapidly.
Overcrowding can lead to issues with airflow, nutrient availability, or light absorption. Any of these can cause problems with your plant, and good pruning can help prevent them by keeping plants in their own space.
Promotes Good Airflow
Pruning also opens up your plant and promotes proper airflow. Good airflow helps reduce the risk of pests and diseases. Pruning out the dense center of some plants lets the air flow more freely, and this is all around good for your plant. Stagnant air can lead to a host of issues, so promoting good airflow is a must for any garden.
Encourages Fuller Growth
One of the primary reasons we prune our plants is to encourage fuller growth. When you prune back the tops of your plant it will force them to regrow, and this will typically be fuller and bushier than before.
This also encourages outward growth that “fills out” your plant. Herbs tend to grow upward, but good pruning encourages growth both up and out. This leads to a larger, fuller plant, and increases the amount of harvestable herb for your to enjoy. It also helps to avoid issues with reaching and tipping.
Can Extend The Harvest Period Of Certain Herbs
Depending on the plant, pruning can also increase the amount of time you’re able to harvest edible herbs from it. Plants like cilantro tend to bolt, which is when they start to flower, and this ruins the flavor of the herb. By pinching off these buds before they flower you’re able to extend the time before this happens. You can’t put it off forever, but a few extra harvests is doable with proper pruning.
Maintains Aesthetic Shape
Lastly, pruning also helps keep your plant in a shape that is pleasing to the eye. This isn’t strictly necessary, but is important for those that want their garden to be both functional and beautiful. The best example of aesthetic pruning is probably bonsai trees, but this goes for other plants, including herbs, as well.
How Often Should I Prune My Herbs?
How often you prune depends on the type of herbs you have. In general, you can separate herbs into two distinct groups, herbaceous and evergreen.
Herbaceous herbs are ones that lack a woody stem above the soil line. Herbs like chives, mint, and oregano fall into this category. Herbaceous herbs can be pruned as much as you like, and tend to grow back extremely quickly. These ones are more forgiving, and can usually spring back even if you prune a bit too much.
Evergreen herbs, on the other hand, do have a woody stem. This group includes herbs like thyme, rosemary, or sage. These herbs should only be pruned 1-2 times per year. Be a little more conservative here as excessive pruning is likely to do more damage to these herbs than it would to a herbaceous one.
When To Prune Herbs
In almost every case you want to only prune during the herb’s growing season. This is typically in the spring and summer months when it is warm and sunny. During this time, the plant’s are actively growing and at their strongest, so will be able to deal with the stress pruning brings on.
You want to avoid pruning during the winter or when the plant is dormant. During these times the herb’s growth slows, and this can make it difficult to recover after a pruning. Excessive pruning in the winter can do much more harm than good, and can kill the plant if done carelessly.
How To Prune Herbs
Start by setting a game plan for how and why you’re pruning. Figure out which plants need to be pruned and how much you’re going to take off. This helps ensure that you don’t accidentally prune too much at once.
If you’re using tools such as scissors make sure to properly clean and disinfect them before cutting into your plant. This helps prevent any disease or pests being transferred from your tool to the plant. This is especially important if you use your tools both indoors and outdoors.
Start by removing any dead or dying pieces of the plant. These are usually targets for pests and disease, so removing them helps protect the rest of your plant.
Then, move on to pruning the leaves of your herb. Start at the top and work your way down removing ends of the stems and any growth that is pointed inwards. You want to avoid pruning the larger leaves at the bottom of your plant as these offer it support.
When pruning, make sharp, clean cuts to avoid damaging the plant. Don’t try to rip or pull bits of your plant off with force as this may damage the plant.
Stop once you’ve pruned no more than ⅓ of the total plant. This ensures that the plant has enough leaves to get the energy it needs to keep growing.
As you can see, the process itself is quite quick and easy. Once you know what you’re looking to do it all falls into place.
You should be pruning and harvesting your herbs regularly. While it might seem counterintuitive at first, this is beneficial to the plant and it will grow back fuller and bigger than it was before.