Pruning and maintenance herbs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

BasilHerbs are easy to grow for beginning gardeners, as they can be grown in containers indoors or out and all year long, and there is nothing better than fresh herbs whether you are cooking up standard fare or creating something new in the kitchen. The best way to use herbs is being able to snip a few fresh sprigs of whatever whenever you need them.

But, like every other plant, herbs have a reproductive cycle. They flower, set seed, and grow taller and produce more leaves. The difference about growing most herbs, compared to flowers and vegetables, with some exceptions, is that we want to encourage leaf production and not, necessarily, that of flowers.

While it is true some herbs are grown for their seeds, dill for instance, most are grown for their leaves. Some, like coriander are grown for both their seeds and their leaves, the latter being referred to as cilantro in the US while remaining coriander in general English usage. In order to do this it is important to maintain them in a vegetative state.

How do we do this? By nipping and snipping, naturally! Nipping the flower buds so they don’t flower (when plants begin flower production they cut back on leaf growth) and snipping the shoots and pruning woody branches (if there are any) to encourage bushier plant growth. Be sure to cut the branch at a point just above new leaf growth, which will encourage new leaf growth.

Keeping in mind that most plants, herbs included, are what may be called “programmed to survive” no matter what one does to them, but that does not mean hacking them down to the ground. Except, that is, in the case of chives, which should always be cut down to the ground instead of halfway cutting the shoot.

If you are planning on using, or are using, your herbs on a regular basis, snipping here and there should be enough by way of maintenance as long as you remember to snip off the buds. Snipping off too many shoots, branches, and leaves probably won’t kill the plant, but it may be a long time before you can use it again.

Pruning and maintenance of herbs is often overlooked and forgotten by those growing them, including by myself, and then Rosemary will get woody beyond repair and Basil dies and such like. Been there and done it and more than once.

Also, if you grow your herbs indoors ensure that they get the right amount of sun and turn them regularly so they do not get leggy reaching for the light, especially the likes of Basil. This is also where regular snipping and use of the leaves comes in.

© 2013