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To a new gardener, pruning plants can feel like a very scary task and it’s never a good idea to start your pruning with hesitation. But with just a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to prune your lavender, basil and rosemary plants with confidence. 

Before you get started pruning any plant, especially herbs and edibles, be sure to sterilize your pruning shears. You can do this by wiping the blades with rubbing alcohol or bleach. Rince them with water and dry thoroughly with a clean cloth. Now you’re ready to start pruning.

Lavender

Lavender plant growing in a field and lavender in a dried bundle on the table.
How to Prune & Harvest Lavender from the Garden.

Pruning lavender keeps it looking full, encourages new growth and flowering and gives you lots of fresh tips to harvest throughout the season. It can also control the size. 

When to prune lavender

Lavender can be lightly trimmed or pruned anytime during the growing season. Ideally, you should prune your lavender twice in a growing season: once in early spring and once in late summer, after it’s done blooming. 

If you live in a colder climate, you should avoid pruning lavender past early fall. Otherwise, the fresh growth will get damaged by the frost. Try not to prune within 4-6 weeks of your first frost date

How to prune lavender

Start by removing dead or faded flowers and always prune off any broken or diseased branches when you see them. 

In early spring, wait until you start to see new growth from your plant before you prune. Cut off the branches and bits that are above the new growth. This will make your plant fuller.

In the late summer after your lavender stops blooming, you can prune again. I usually take off about ⅓ of the plant at this time and work on getting a pleasing shape. One tip is to not prune into the “woody” area of the branches below the leaves. Always leave some green on the stems. 

How to harvest lavender

First identify the group of flowers that you wish to harvest. Then, follow the stem down from the flower bud until you reach a fork in the branching where two side leaves, new buds, or branches have begun to form. Using small pruning snips or scissors, cut the stem a ¼-½” above the buds or side branches. Once the center stem and flower is removed, the plant will redirect its energy to the side shoots, which will grow to produce their own flowers. 

If you want to harvest a longer stem of lavender or a bouquet with some foliage in it, follow the main stem down to the appropriate length for your bouquet. The only thing to remember is to cut just above a fork in the branching. The branching junction will look the same as before but will be deeper inside of the plant. 

Or, display it as a beautiful bouquet by placing your harvested blooms in a vase of water. The fragrance and flavor is always best if you use your lavender as soon as possible. But, bunches of lavender can also be dried. A few common methods are hanging to dry, drying on screens or in baskets or using a food dehydrator. Store your lavender in an airtight glass container in a  cool, dark and dry location. 

Fun Tip: When pruning lavender in summer, take some of the best snips and use them as cuttings to start new plants. Larger, woody pieces of pruned lavender can be used as skewers for kabobs!

Basil

3 blocks with lavender, basil and rosemary herbs
How to Prune & Harvest Basil from the Garden.

Basil is a more delicate herb that doesn’t need vigorous pruning. But, if you do decide to prune you can promote a bushier plant and more abundant harvest. Here’s how to do it!

How to prune basil

Pruning basil is a more delicate process than herbs that are more woody and vigorous growers. Instead of pruning with shears, use your thumb and forefinger to “pinch” the plant.

When to prune basil

Always hold off on pruning until your basil plant is at least 6 inches tall, first. 

If your basil plant is growing too tall, pinch stems at the top of the plant to encourage more lateral growth. Pinch the side shoots to encourage more vertical growth. If you ever see a flower you should pinch it right off; I know it’s sad, but flowering takes a lot of energy from your plants. You want basil to focus on leaf growth so you have more to harvest! The goal is to get full and bushy foliage. 

By taking a few minutes to “pinch prune” your basil, you’ll encourage new growth and abundant harvests to share with family and friends.

How to harvest basil

When harvesting, cut basil stems about ¼-inch above a node, no more than 3 inches from the base of the plant. It’s always recommended to harvest basil before the plant flowers. Most of the time, I find that I have to harvest basil a lot more frequently than I can actually use it; but I can’t complain! 

Basil can also be dried like other herbs. Some common methods are hanging to dry in the air, drying in the sun, using a microwave or oven or drying in a food dehydrator. Dried basil, like other herbs, is best stored in airtight glass containers in a cool, dark and dry place. Freshly dried basically can be stored as whole leaves to preserve it’s flavor and aroma, then crushed upon using. 

Fun Tip: I like to mix dried, crushed basil with olive oil, pour into an ice cube tray and freeze. Although it’s best not to crush until you’re ready for use, I still think this is a great method for using any excess basil you have. Anytime you need some for a dish, just pop a basil cube out of the freezer and into your skillet. 

Rosemary

Rosemary plant growing in a field and rosemary sprig on the table.
How to Prune & Harvest Rosemary from the Garden.

It’s not necessary to prune rosemary, but there are two main reasons some gardeners will do this: to create a bushier plant or to reduce the size. 

When to prune rosemary

Similar to lavender, rosemary can be lightly trimmed or pruned anytime during the growing season. Ideally, you should prune your rosemary twice in a growing season: once in early spring and once in late summer, after it’s done blooming. 

If you live in a cold climate, you should avoid pruning Rosemary within 4-6 weeks of your first frost date. The delicate new growth that pruning promotes will get damaged by the frost.

How to prune rosemary

Start by removing dead or faded flowers and always prune off any broken or diseased branches when you see them. 

To create a bushier rosemary plant, simply cut off 1-2” of the branches along the outside of the plant. This will force the branch to split and it will fill out the plant. When pruning to reduce the size of your rosemary, you can cut the entire plant back by ⅓ any time during the growing season. I tend to wait until late summer to do this.

How to harvest rosemary

Most herbs are best to harvest just before flowering because their flavor and aroma is at its peak. Snip the stems in the morning before the heat of the day and wash the stems. Using fresh rosemary is best because the leaves are soft and pliable. But, it can also be dried on the counter or in a food dehydrator. Many people like to tie a bouquet of fresh rosemary so it can leave a beautiful scent in your home as it hangs to dry. Once the needles begin to fall off your rosemary is ready. Remove the leaves by rubbing the stem upwards over. Then, store in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. 

Like lavender, it’s also very easy to take cuttings from rosemary. Take some of the tips you pruned and strip off the needles on the bottom half of the cutting. Dip in rooting powder and plant. 

Fun Tip: Rosemary flowers are also edible, so consider adding a few of the blooms to a fresh salad. The flower has an even more intense taste than the leaves and is said to  improve memory.

Wrapping Up

Lavender and Rosemary are pruned very similarly. Prune more carefully in the early spring and more vigorously after bloom in the late summer. If you live in a colder climate, don’t prune too close to your first fall frost date, which you can find on the Farmer’s Almanac website. Always wait until a basil plant is at least 6” tall before any kind of pruning. Pinch the top of the plant to promote more lateral shoots. Pinch the lateral shoots to promote shoots from the top. With just a little bit of knowledge, you can ensure healthy and happy herbs that will produce an abundant harvest that you can enjoy and also share with family and friends.

Blocks with various photos of lavender, basil and rosemary

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