Pruning Woody Herbs – Is Cutting Back Woody Herbs Necessary

Woman Pruning Woody Herbs
pruning woody herb
(Image credit: Photodjo)

Woody herb plants such as rosemary, lavender, or thyme are perennials that, given proper growing conditions, can take over an area; that’s when cutting back woody herbs becomes a necessity. Plus, pruning woody herbs signals the plant to send out new shoots and gives the plant an overall boost and a necessary haircut. Read on to learn how to prune woody herbs.

About Woody Herb Pruning

As they say, there is a time and place for everything, and woody herb pruning is no exception. The best time to prune woody herbs is the spring once new growth can be seen at the base of the plant. A second chance to prune will be when the plant is done flowering.

Never prune woody herb plants late in the season. Pruning will just encourage new growth at the same time the plant wants to become dormant. Tender new leaves will be killed by cold winter temps, and the resulting stress will weaken or may even kill the herb.

Another thing about woody herb pruning is that if it hasn’t been done in a while and the plant has grown large, it will be nearly impossible to get it trimmed into a tidy bushy plant. Why? Woody stems do not re-sprout new growth, so if you chop it back to the wood you will end up with stubs and no foliage.

Cutting back woody herbs should become part of your annual yard maintenance both to control the size and shape of the plant and to get it to produce more foliage.

How to Prune Woody Herbs

In the spring, wait until you see new growth appearing at the base of the plant or coming from the lower stems before cutting back. Only cut a third of the plant back when pruning woody herbs. Any more could be disastrous. Remove the spent flowers and one third of the branch. Make your cut right at a set of leaves.

During the summer, the little bit of cutting you do when taking a stem or two for use will be enough to keep the herbs in shape, and can be done at your discretion.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.