Update: Pruning Your Herbs [Herb Garden Series]

A little while ago I was on the phone with my mom and she was telling me that her basil plants aren’t producing as much as she would like. She has basil, but her tomatoes aren’t ripe yet, and every time she harvests some basil the plant doesn’t really seem to regrow. She’s worried that by the time the tomatoes are ripe the basil will be done for the season…bummer!

So I reminded her of the post I originally wrote about pruning your herbs, which can really help them survive and thrive longer into the season, even as you harvest them. I know she must have missed that post while she was on vacation or something, because she reads my blog every day, right?! Right Mom?

Anyway, I realized that it has been a while since that post went up, and maybe it’s time to update you all on how all the pruning I did back then has turned out.

Check out this catnip plant!!!

How to prune your herbs

It has become nice and big and bushy since I first started pruning it. And since this picture was taken it has gotten twice as big and I have harvested it back down to this size two separate times now! It’s growing like crazy!

I was trying to explain to my mom over the phone how to prune the plant, which stems I pruned and when, and how new stems regrew, and it was all just getting a bit complicated. So I emailed her the photo above and included an explanation.

I’m publishing the email below in the hopes that it helps you guys too! (And if the email is still confusing, there’s a photo below that might help.)

Can you see how I pruned it in the photo?

I cut the main stem off first right above the third pair of leaves, then there were the two stems that grew out of that. Once they had three sets of leaves on each of them I cut them back to just above the first pair of leaves, and two new stems grew from each.

So there were four at the top, and right around that time I started seeing all this extra stuff around the bottom really start to grow. So once the extra bottom stems had a few pairs of leaves I trimmed them back.

And then the four top stems were growing like crazy so this past Monday I cut them back to just above the first pair of leaves as well. And you can see the tiny little eight stems about to grow.

At this point I don’t know whether the bottom stems will grow, or the eight top stems, or both! But my plan is to take any new stem I see with three pairs of leaves or more and cut it back above the first or second pair. That way I can let these newer stems grow and use them for harvesting while leaving the older leaves as a power source for the plant.

Basically you want to cut stems instead of pulling leaves, cuz then the stems regrow. And you can always pull the leaves off of the stems you cut if you don’t want the stems as well.

The only other important thing I know about cutting the plants is that you don’t want to harvest or cut away more than half the plant at one time. That makes sure its alive enough to continue growing after you harvest it.

Hope that all helps keep your basil alive long enough for the tomatoes to ripen!

– Jessi

Just in case you need a little visual to go along with the email, here’s that same photo marked up with where I made the first three cuts. Those are the important ones; if you can get your plant to have eight little growing stems at the top, it will be just fine and start filling itself out on the bottom as well.

There are four growing stems at the top in the photo, but the third cut was made to each of those four stems, so now each one will grow two new stems, bringing the total to eight up top.

Pruning Herbs Update: Catnip plant after pruning

Also, if you see any branches, stems, or leaves that are wilting or turning yellow or brown while still on the plant, just get rid of them! In the picture below you can see the chamomile branch on the right was starting to turn yellow, and the one on the left had a couple of little brown, shriveled bits.

Pruning Herbs Update: Cutting Off Dying Bits

You don’t want your plant wasting any of its energy on dead or dying branches, so just clip off anything that isn’t looking it’s best. The plant will be happier in the long run.

How have your plants been doing so far this season? We have tons of basil and catnip, and those plants just keep growing! The mint and rosemary are just starting to get big enough to really prune them back, and the dill and chamomile are doing great!


This post is part of a series about growing herbs indoors. You can see the rest of the posts in the series here.



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Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. K @ Claiming Our Space says

    10 years ago

    Thanks for this! I am always am wondering if I am pruning correctly. Thanks so much for sharing on Tout It Tuesday! Hope to see you again.

  2. Evelyn says

    10 years ago

    Ok, now I have to go check on my herbs, I have never noticed how I harvest or prune them. I have such a small herb garden I need to get the most out of it:) Thanks for sharing this great tip at Freedom Fridays. Have a great week:)

  3. Nancy W says

    10 years ago

    Great information! I’ve got a bunch of herbs that need pruning!

  4. Just Jaime says

    10 years ago

    The photos and tips are so helpful! Thanks!

  5. Katie says

    10 years ago

    I think those pictures helped. Our herbs are doing pretty well outside, despite the fact that I keep forgetting to water them (though in my defense: every day the forecast says “chance of storms” with a percentage above 40 and often above 50 or 60. And then–it doesn’t rain. Every day. Or we get a light sprinkle and other parts of town get a power-outage causing deluge. Hmph).

    Your pruning tips helped a lot! My basil, especially, is lower and thicker this year than in past years, when it would grow really tall and spindly. ^_^ Your success has encouraged me to try and keep smaller pots of them going over the winter. Again the problem is that the only sunny windows are in a part of the house I tend not to frequent…but perhaps this year! ^_~

    • Jessi says

      10 years ago

      Yay! Glad your basil is doing better this year. And (at least in my experience) basil does okay without tons of water. The most it has grown was over a five day trip we took when we forgot to have someone check on it. It like doubled in size by the time we got home!

      • Katie says

        10 years ago

        Basil’s a Mediterranean plant and does okay on low water (most herbs do) or in heat…it’s not too thrilled about both, though, oops. It’s one reason I love to grow herbs–they really are very tolerant plants!

        The parsley and thyme are doing best this year, I guess because they’re in the shade. I thought they might waste away not getting enough sun (herbs want full sun! remember that Mediterranean bit), but it’s been so hot and dry that apparently they’re quite happy to be shielded a bit.

        Has that prompted me to lug the rest of the herbs down into the shade near those two? No, of course not, that would be smart….

        • Katie says

          10 years ago

          Oh, and I meant to say, though I’ll feel dumb if you already told all your readers this in your herb series…

          Most herbs do best getting a little water every day, rather than a soaking once or twice a week (which keeps most other houseplants happy). They don’t need very much at a time, but a steady supply keeps them happy and growing.

          I just wished I still lived in Albuquerque, where there were giant lavender and rosemary bushes everywhere…those guys are really desert plants and do not like the clay soil here. 🙁

          • Jessi says

            10 years ago

            Haha, good point. I did mention that at some point in some herb garden post somewhere, but it’s always good to be reminded. 🙂 I read somewhere that the most common problem with herbs is actually over-watering them. People treat them like houseplants, but you’re right about the Mediterranean bit…they’re perfectly happy being really warm and a little on the drier side.

        • Jessi says

          10 years ago

          The kitchen windows get direct sun, but I still worry it isn’t quite enough for some of the plants. The spearmint (which is supposed to be okay in partial shade) is sort of leggy. I mean, it’s totally growing like gangbusters and has tons of new leaves and stuff, but it’s got really long stems. We had to stake it a while ago so it wouldn’t just tip over. I think it’s going to be fine though, the stake really seemed to help.

          • Katie says

            10 years ago

            That is funny, because mint is usually a sprawling ground-cover type plant (you don’t ever want to plant it straight in the ground unless all you want everywhere is mint forever).

            But actually, that might make sense, then. My mint usually sort of spreads out and cascades down the sides a bit of my pots, which are bigger than yours. So in a smaller pot that might just look like it’s leggy and falling down. Hmm. Mine do still have leaves most of the way along the stems, though, so it’s possible yours just doesn’t get enough light.

            My mint is having the opposite problem right now and some of its leaves are actually burning (guess that’s where the partial shade comes in). Oops. Mint is basically a weed, though. It never seems to die until a good frost (though now that I’ve said that, it’ll be dead in a week).

          • Jessi says

            10 years ago

            Huh, it could totally be just seeming leggy in comparison cuz the pot is kinda small. Never thought of that! It seems to be surviving just fine, it just can’t hold it’s own weight up right now 🙂 So we’ll see in a month or so, I bet it will be fine by then.

  6. [email protected] A Proverbs 31 Wife says

    10 years ago

    Our basil finally started growing the past few weeks. We planted them out in the garden and then there was no rain. We were afraid they were going to die there for awhile.

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