Common Questions & Some Answers
There is so much out there on this so here are a few questions I had myself, and have been asked by others.
Some herbs snipped and ready for cooking with any meat or vegetarian dish.
Q: When And How Do I Cut Herbs?
The great news is it is good to start pruning or harvesting your herb plants early. When you have reasonably sturdy seedlings that don’t look like they’ll fall over if you gently pluck or use scissors to cut a few leaves off it, you’re good to go! Try not to snip more than a third of your plant as this means it will have less recovery required between harvests.
Cut your herbs by finding a branch or shoot just after a ‘v’ of two little ones. When you leave the ‘v’ of two smaller shoots on the plant, it will encourage new growth at what seems like double the pace. Make sure you leave a few leaves behind rather than stripping a plant bare.
The herb plant will use its larger leaves to gain energy from the sun and encourage growth. Also, some of the smaller leaves being newest are more tender and therefore full of flavour. For example, I harvest our basil plant by taking one or two of the larger leaves but leaving most of them intact. Then I remove the majority of the medium-sized leaves along with a few of the tiny ones. I find this adds some great flavour to a salad or pasta dish. The different sizes also change the texture of the meal a bit. It’s lovely when you bite into a large basil leaf half way through a salad, but would be overpowering if every other mouthful was a big basil bite!
Pruning your herbs will also help you keep them compact and looking fantastically bushy.
Not only is plucking herbs first thing in the morning a great way to start any day, but it also means they may taste better!
The Urban Cultivator provides more information on how to prune herbaceous herbs (such as chives, oregano, mint, tarragon) versus evergreens (such as sage, rosemary and thyme).
Homegrown.org gives a detailed step by step 101 on how to prune different herbs.
Q: Why Is My Plant Leaning To One Side?
A lean may mean your plant is growing towards the sun at a relatively rapid rate and flourishing on one side as a result. If in pots, turn the pot around so that the plant is leaning away from the sun. As a result, your plant will start to grow towards the sun again and often send shoots off in the direction of the sun. I’ve noticed this is particularly great for thyme and rosemary bushes.
Q: What Do I Do When The Herb Plant Flowers?
When a herb decides it is time to reproduce there is a chemical reaction and a great deal of energy goes into flowering to go to seed. This can affect the flavour of the leaves not to mention end the plant. For lots of nature/permaculture enthusiasts, it is essential to let the plants do their natural thing.
Coriander left to seed makes a beautiful scene to enjoy in the garden, rather than being used for cooking.
Some would say let them flower and don’t worry too much about the change in flavour of the leaves and enjoy the harvest until they go to seed. You may have to forego using it in the cooking and perhaps grow some more from seedlings or seed. Others would say that flowers if left too long, will make the plant woody and the herbs taste bitter.
Although I do pinch off most of the flowers from my herbs when they are in full swing, I always like to leave a few on for the bees and the insects. It is indeed a beautiful sight to behold a flowering head of herbs! You will have to accept it is likely this plant will no longer be able to provide you with what it was previously. Still. You can have a great, long harvest and slow the plant from going to seed for a long time, finishing off with a great floral bouquet at the end!
If it weren’t such a sticky hot summer that we got married in, I would have loved coriander in full flower for my wedding bouquet! Unfortunately what we did cut was wilted amongst the freshly cut garden roses on the food table. Still looked great!
When the herb is looking particularly woody or stalky (for example an oregano plant that went from creeping along to standing upright and having fewer leaves on the shoots) I usually give it a good old prune right back. It hasn’t taken long for it to regenerate and provide heavy foliage again. Many a basil plant has flowered and died right back. I’ve just put them in the self-watering pots at the back of the vegetable garden, and over time they had regenerated when they were ready.
Q: If A Herb Plant Looks Dead Is It Dead?
Well, it may not be the end of it in my experience!. Providing they were in good soil and given a reasonable amount of water (depending on the plant) they may have just gone dormant for the winter. They are likely to regenerate later on.
One of my recent exciting gardening moments was finding a marjoram plant regrowing after having left it alone for what seemed like months. It was looking incredibly scrappy, and although it is my favourite herb of all time, it had appeared to die off. I took it roots and all out of the herb pots that I used frequently. And I threw it wholly abandoned over to the back of the vegetable garden. To be honest, I thought that it was dead anyway so it would just become part of the soil again over time.
Marjoram is coming back for another round after being dormant.
I can’t express how delighted I was (probably actually squealed and freaked out the neighbours) when I found a beautiful, healthy thing growing on top of this ‘dead’ looking pile of soil. To me, it looked like the old thing had found its conditions much better to live in down at the back. It has since gained its rightful place back in the herb pots as a new ‘herbling’ and is doing splendidly.
Lifehacker has an exciting scratch snap test you could try if you are unsure.
State by State Gardening provides more information about which herbs usually go dormant and who thrives in the winter.
For information on the most common mistakes in herb gardening, especially for beginners, check out this link.