Once you’ve planted herbs in the garden or containers, you may be tempted to walk away and let them grow unchecked. However, knowing when and how to prune herbs is so important. It helps your plants stay vigorous and productive, and keeps them growing longer than if left to fend for themselves.
Editor’s Note: For the best flavor from your fresh herbs, plan to harvest them in the morning before it gets hot and plants are stressed for water. Herbs also have more vibrant, fresher flavors when harvested from younger stems—another good reason to prune herbs often!
How to Prune Basil
Basil plants will grow quickly in the garden, getting leggy with oversized leaves. Pruning every couple of weeks will keep the plant tidy, prevent flowering and encourage growth of new leaves. Prune basil by snipping the stems about 3 to 4″ down from the tops, just above a leaf node. This is how to store fresh basil.
How to Prune Parsley
Regularly cutting your parsley plants not only stimulates new growth, but also keeps the plant from getting overgrown and going to seed. To prune parsley, go for the stems growing around the outside of the plant—new stems come up through the center. Trim outer stems close to the ground. Prune throughout the season when you see the plant getting gangly, to remove flowers or when you need parsley for a recipe.
Don’t miss our guide to cooking with fresh herbs!
How to Prune Rosemary
Regular pruning of rosemary plants will keep the stems from getting thick and woody. If your rosemary has survived the winter, prune back older stems in the spring. On young rosemary plants, snip the top 2 to 3″ of the stems weekly or even more often if the plant is growing vigorously. Prune through the spring and summer.
How to Prune Thyme
Thyme is another woody type of herb and frequent trimming will promote new growth. You can pinch leaves from thyme plants as you need them, or trim the top couple of inches of the stems. Cut stems just above a leaf node (where the leaves grow from the stems). Flowers can be removed so that more leaves will grow; however, thyme plants will still grow even after flowering.
How to Prune Mint
You will be much happier with your mint if you prune it frequently throughout the season. Left unchecked, established mint plants will overrun your garden and even the lawn! Begin pruning and harvesting mint in spring as soon as leaves appear on the stems. Trim mint stems back by as much as half, and this can be done every few weeks. Pruning this way works with all varieties of mint.
How to Prune Cilantro
Cilantro plants that are not pruned will quickly produce flowers, and then die back. Snip stems from your cilantro before it flowers, cutting about one third of the way down the stem with leaves remaining below so the plant can regrow. The plant loses energy later in the season and you’ll have to let it go to seed at this point. (Those seeds are coriander!) This is why some gardeners do successive plantings of cilantro seeds to have new plants growing all summer.
Here’s how to chop cilantro.
How to Prune Dill
Dill is a vigorous grower (it’s one of the fastest growing herb plants), but will quickly bolt (go to seed) in hot weather. The fragrant, leafy stems can be harvested beginning when dill plants are 6 to 10″ tall, and doing so will help prevent the dill from flowering. When cutting dill, take only about one third of the plant at a time.
And if your dill does flower? Save and dry the flower heads to harvest the dill seeds. Like cilantro, many gardeners do successive plantings of dill to have more plants to harvest.