Making Herbs Bigger Through Pinching And Harvesting

Pinching Herbs
(Image credit: Joanna Kilen - Redesiuk)

When you have an herb garden, you probably have one thing in mind: you want to have a garden filled with large, bushy plants that you can use in the kitchen and around the house. Your herb plants, on the other hand, have something else in mind. They want to grow as fast as possible and produce flowers and then seeds. So how does a gardener overcome the basic urges of an herb plant in order to fulfill their own ideas of bigger herb plants? The secret lies in frequent pinching and harvesting.

Pinching and Harvesting Herb Plants

Pinching is the act of removing an upper portion of a stem on an herb plant in order to encourage new leaf growth from the lower dormant leaf buds. If you look at an herb plant, you'll see that right in the crotch, where a leaf meets the stem, there is a small knob. This is a dormant leaf bud. As long as there is growth above it, the lower leaf buds will not grow.

But, if the stem above a leaf bud is removed, the plant signals to the dormant leaf buds closest to the missing stem to grow. Since a plant normally produces these dormant leaf buds in pairs, when you take one stem off, two leaf buds will start to produce two new stems. Basically, you will get two stems where one was before. If you do this enough times, in no time at all, your herb plants will be big and lush. Making herb plants bigger through this practice can be done either by deliberate pinching or harvesting.

Harvesting is rather easy, as it is the point of growing herbs in the first place. All you do is simply harvest the herbs when you need them, and Mother Nature will take care of the rest. Don't worry about hurting the plants when you harvest. They will grow back stronger and better. Deliberate pinching should be done when the plant is small or during times when you may not be harvesting much. All you need to do is remove a small top portion of each stem every week or so. You do this with a pinching action on the top of the stem. This removes the top part of the stem cleanly and those dormant leaf buds will then start to grow.

Pinching and harvesting do not damage your herb plants. Your herb plants will grow back bigger and healthier if you take the time to regularly pinch and harvest them.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.