To Prune or Not to Prune

Dear Kitty,

I have a lot of herbs growing in my garden and I wondered how, when or if I need to prune them. I gather herbs many times a week. Do I just leave the herbs alone until spring?


To Prune or Not to Prune

Dear To Prune Or Not to Prune,

Congratulations on your garden! Also for growing your own herbs to flavour your food, create your own herbal body care products, or your own medicines. Well done!

Herbs are vigorous growers so they very often begin to look straggly or outgrow the space you have allowed for them by seasons end. Trimming your herb plants is essential to maximum harvesting. Three cheers for consistent harvesting but you probably still see dead heads, diseased or damaged foliage that can be snipped away. The pruning process for herbs is best done after the herbs flower in the autumn.
The older the plant the more likely it is to become woody and shapeless. Cut off dead or shrivelled leaves to discourage disease and slugs. If there are dead or straggly stems cut them almost to soil level.

Trim your softer spreading herbs (such as thyme) with scissors. The tougher stems like those on lavender may require secateurs, also known as pruning clippers. The best rule of thumb for how much to prune on your woody herbs is to cut away two thirds of the plant to encourage plenty of new foliage next spring. Try and shape your herbs slightly rounded for an umbrella effect to help them shed moisture during rain or snow.

An annual trimming is enough once your plants are established. If your plants are young you might want to trim them a few times to encourage them thicken up and spread. Sounds counterproductive I know — but it works.

If your herbs have not been trimmed or pruned for a season or two it may take some extreme pruning and your plants might look a little sad but they will come back happier and fuller. In the spring check the plants over and remove any winter damaged stems or branches to ensure the plant isn’t expending energy trying to repair them. Overall, herbs are a lovely addition to your garden and with a small amount of pruning they will serve you well!

Happy snipping and pruning,


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