Pruning Rosemary – How and When to Prune Rosemary Plants

Growing herbs is a great way to add an edible element to your garden. Rosemary is normally quite easy to control if you keep it in a pot, but if you have it growing freely in the garden, it can easily get woody and shabby looking. This is when these tips for pruning rosemary are helpful.Pruning rosemary will make the plant more bushy and productive. It's easy if you follow a few tips. #pruningplants #rosemary

All garden plants need pruning at some stage, and rosemary is no exception.

Rosemary is a perennial herb that I use all the time in cooking. It is earthy, flavorful and very hardy in the garden.

This herb can be grown in containers (I grow mine on my vegetable garden on a deck) or planted directly in your flower garden, or vegetable garden.  It is versatile and adds great flavor to all sorts of recipes.

Generally, rosemary is fairly easy going and won’t need much in the way of care. However, if your plant is really overgrown, hard pruning may be necessary.(removing quite a lot of the old wood.) This technique is best done in the spring since it will send off lots of new growth and the long growing season to follow will help it.

But general pruning of rosemary can be done throughout the growing season and right into early fall. My plants get lightly pruned during the spring and summer, since I cut rosemary for use in recipes all year. By fall, the plant can look pretty unkempt so this is when I set about the task of pruning rosemary in earnest.

Tips for pruning rosemary

When to prune rosemary

This can be done as early as late winter and then through spring and summer. It’s not necessary to wait for the flowering to finish and, in fact, this is not a good idea. Pruning too late in the year might encourage new growth that will not have hardened before the first frost.  In many locations, late July is a good time, and for warmer hardiness zones, you can prune in September. A general rule is to prune no later than about 4-6 weeks before the first frost.prune rosemary well before the first frost

Is pruning necessary each year?

Rosemary is very good at taking care of itself, particularly plants grown in pots. It’s not necessary to prune plants unless they are overgrown, over woody, or unless you are trying to make a hedge or prune into topiary shapes. Also, you may simply want to prune rosemary to reduce the size of the plant or to make your existing plant more productive next year.

My rosemary has quite a bit of older growth on it, so I want to prune it now so that the time I have left will give me some fresher tips to use in Thanksgiving cooking. Rosemary grows for me pretty much all year round, here in zone 7b.

How to prune rosemary plants

Before you start the job of pruning rosemary, be sure that your garden shears are nice and sharp. Dirty shears with blunt tips will mean that your cuts are ragged, which can encourage disease and pest problems. All garden tools need to be tended to this time of the year. Be sure to check out my general tips for winterizing your garden tools, as well. Tips for pruning rosemary

General Pruning. To prune rosemary, clip off the faded flowers, if any. You can preserve the flowers with Borax for use in dried flower arrangements, craft projects or potpourri. Use a good pair of pruning shears to trim back just below the flower area. If the plant is not flowering, just snip off the top few inches of the stems, being careful not to move too far into the old wood.Flowering rosemary bush

If your aim is a bushy plant, just remove about 1 – 2 inches of all of the branches. This encourages each tip to split into two and will give you a nice bushy looking plant before you know it.

Hard Pruning. Since rosemary is a perennial,if it is grown freely in the garden can get to heights of 6-8 feet!  Any plant this size will get woody and unkempt looking if not pruned.

Old rosemary plants can get very woody.

Photo credit Flickr

If you decide to do more of a hard pruning, earlier in the year, ratcheting pruners will make cutting the old wood easier, but never cut more than 1/3 of the plant or you may kill it.  With old wood, a good rule of thumb is one branch out of three. Then, 6-8 weeks later, as the new growth is growing vigorously, you can cut back another woody branch and so on. At all costs, don’t cut all the old wood off at once.Hard prune rosemary with ratcheting pruners

Pruning Rosemary Plants in Containers

Rosemary is a perennial herb, so it will continue growing year after year in containers.  This can result in pot bound plants.woody rosemary plant

A pot bound rosemary plant will produce less and less new growth and get quite woody.  Re-pot the plant into a larger pot, if you can. If not, remove the plant from the container and carefully prune the roots back and bit and add a fresh layer of soil. I find that I can grow rosemary for several years in a large pot before it needs this step..

What to do with rosemary clippings

Rosemary can be easily dried for use in recipes during the winter and, like most herbs, can be preserved many other ways. Rosemary oil and rosemary herb butter are just a few ideas.rosemary cuttings

You can also root the cuttings of newer shoots of rosemary to get more plants for free. Either place the springs in water to grow roots and plant them in soil, or use a root powder on the tips and plant them directly into soil.  Before you know it, you’ll have a new plant. Rosemary makes a great indoor plant to grow on your kitchen counter near a sunny window.Rosemary makes a great indoor houseplant

These tips for pruning rosemary bushes are easy to do but important in the overall look and health of the plant.  Knowing how to prune rosemary plants will make for a happy plant that gives you sprigs of lovely flavor for cooking.

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  9 comments for “Pruning Rosemary – How and When to Prune Rosemary Plants

  1. Mary H
    08/13/2018 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for this very informative article. It tells me just what I need to know about pruning my rosemary bushes. This is the best one I’ve found as far as clarity and detail.

    • Carol
      08/13/2018 at 10:33 am

      Hi Mary. Thanks for the nice comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful. Carol

  2. Paul
    01/25/2019 at 10:14 am

    I started Rosemary from seed in my indoor greenhouse. Live in Canada, so brrr… Anyway I’m wondering if I should prune the one sprout that has come up. It’s about four inches high and there is about an inch or more between the lower leaves and upper set of leaves, of which there might be a total of five or six pairs over the four inches. Can I clip it in the middle where there is more stem than leaves, just above the last two leaves and at the beginning of the larger stem? Clear as mud? 🙂

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Carol
      01/25/2019 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Paul. I normally don’t prune plants that are small and quite new unless they start to get too leggy. Cutting the main stem will make it branch out but will also make for a more compact plant. I usually prune once the plant is close to the height I want to keep it that size.

  3. Charles Alonge
    04/09/2019 at 6:22 pm

    A great article! I have three rosemary plants that are outdoors now for going on 3 years. I live in Boise, Idaho and wonder how these plants have survived our winters here. After reading your pruning advice, I have decided to leave the plants as they are and simply ‘harvest’ when rosemary is called for in the kitchen. Again, many thanks for an informative review.

  4. Cynthia
    04/27/2019 at 10:31 pm

    Our renter chopped my rosemary plant down, there is only one branch left the rest is Woody with no growth. Any suggestions on helping it get back to it’s full growth?

    • Carol
      04/28/2019 at 9:55 pm

      With only woody growth, it’s probably not going to do very well without severe renovation pruning. You can cut through the woody stems and get growth, since there are still roots. Just prune it hard, keep the watering up and watch for new growth. If all fails, a new plant is in order, but you may be surprised to see it grow after heavy pruning.

  5. cathy young
    06/20/2019 at 7:17 pm

    I have a beautiful row of rosemary plants growing next to a path. About 6 weeks ago my Gardner butchered it….just cut it all back to be even with the path. Now its Nothing but a bunch of woody ugly plants (with some growth on top). I’m horrified. Does he know something that I don’t….or should I keep him away from my garden? I used it regularly for cooking. Thanks!

    • Carol
      06/20/2019 at 9:48 pm

      Pruning rosemary right down to the ground is not something that one normally does. When a rosemary plant is woody and not sprouting much in the center (where it doesn’t get as much light) it is sometimes cut right back there to rejuvenate it, but not normally the whole plant.

      That being said, I have hard pruned rosemary in a big way and did get some new growth. Personally, when mine gets too woody, I start over with fresh soil and new plants to get the lush younger growth. Mine are in pots though, not in the ground.

      I’ve heard of people losing their plants from too much pruning and also of others who get new growth from doing this.

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