By last weekend my nice little hummocks of herbs were looking decidedly overgrown and shaggy. The thyme, which flowered beautifully in late spring, suddenly looked splayed and tired like someone who’s had too much to drink at a party. The sage had plans for world domination – in just over two years it had grown from barely six inches across to almost four feet wide!
Sage and thyme, along with other shrubby, Mediterranean herbs like lavender and rosemary are adapted to the harsh conditions and stony ground of the aromatic shrublands of places like Italy and Spain. They are almost beside themselves when released into Britain’s fertile, well-watered soils. Growth is fast, lush and leafy – and the plants tend to go leggy quickly and have short lifespans. So it’s time to treat them mean and get trimming.
Even if you don’t mind herbs getting big, it’s still a good idea to trim them after they’ve flowered. So I got the shears out and attacked my rosemaries, thymes and the too-happy-for-its-own-good sage. Regular cutting back makes plants more bushy – they look better and live longer.
When to cut back herbs
After flowering is the key. By trimming these plants over the summer, you give them plenty of time to regrow some nice bushy growth and look smart again before winter. Conveniently, summer is also the best time to dry herbs for kitchen use.
How to prune herbs
The secret when it comes to trimming herbs is to not cut back to far. Go only as far back as there are green leaves and buds. Any further and they won’t re-grow. I like to use small shears for fine-leafed herbs such as thyme, and secateurs for lavenders and sages (with a final shear over at the end to catch any straggly bits).
Prunings make great cuttings. Take 4-6in sections of semi-ripe wood and place in well-drained compost (a mixture of multipurpose and perlite is ideal) and place them somewhere sheltered and shady. Within a year you’ll have useful plants – fragrant and free.