Pruning and harvesting rosemary: when & how?


I study organic agriculture and am very connected to plants and nature. At home, we run a small organic farm with a few animals, various crops and some forest. The production of healthy food in harmony with nature inspires me anew time and again.

Favourite fruit: apple, pear and plum
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It is great to have a constant supply of fresh rosemary leaves to use as a spice but this requires regular pruning and harvesting. We will show you how to make sure your rosemary plant stays healthy and continues to grow.

Rosemary bush with flowers
Rosemary flowers as early as mid-May [Photo: Svetlanko/]

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) needs to be pruned regularly at the time of harvest. However, this pruning is not enough to keep the rosemary plant compact and healthy. Read on to find out what to look out for when pruning rosemary.

When to prune rosemary?

The best time to prune rosemary is in spring after flowering. Rosemary grows quite vigorously and is in danger of quickly becoming woody without regular pruning. In order to keep the plant in shape and to ensure good branching, prune the plant thoroughly in spring. However, wait until the beginning of May to protect the young, new shoots from dangerous night frosts after being pruned. Pruning soon after flowering also has a remontant effect, meaning that a second flowering in late summer is stimulated. Rosemary can be pruned until August – after that, stop pruning so that the plant can prepare for winter.

Tip: Find further care measures for rosemary in our guide.

Rosemary growing in planter box
To keep rosemary in shape, prune and harvest it regularly [Photo: Shebeko/]

Pruning rosemary

Make sure not to cut rosemary back to the woody part of the plant as the herb cannot sprout from shoots that are too woody, which could prevent shooting and branching entirely. Harvest pruning ensures rosemary is kept in shape but it is not a complete substitute for pruning in the early part of the year.

  • Use a clean, sharp knife for pruning rosemary. That way, the parts of the plant with a smooth cut can be separated, preventing germs from entering.
  • Remove the shoots just above the woody part of the plant.
  • Cut off branches that are withered and old, diseased or very woody.
  • Remove shoots that are too dense.
  • Prune rosemary regularly from all sides, including the centre.

Tip: To ensure that creeping rosemary varieties grow as bushy as possible, shorten the shoot tips regularly to stimulate lateral branching.

Rosemary growing over wall
Pruning determines the shape of the rosemary plant [Photo: crystaldream/]

Pruning rosemary for harvest

  • Harvest pruning contributes significantly to the care of your rosemary.
  • Rosemary can be harvested from mid-May to mid-summer.
  • Cut selected, non-woody shoots diagonally above the woody area with a clean, sharp knife.
  • Harvest the rosemary plant evenly from all sides of the bush and cut a few branches out of the middle to give the rosemary plant an even shape.
  • It is important to harvest whole branches from the rosemary bush – if you only remove individual leaves, the plant will react very sensitively.

Tip: There is no need to throw away the shoots you remove during maintenance pruning. As long as the branches are healthy, they can be used as a spice or as cuttings for propagation. Find out how to propagate rosemary here.

Rosemary being pruned
Always cut the branches above the woody parts of the shoots [Photo: ARTFULLY PHOTOGRAPHER/]

How to prune overgrown rosemary

Spring is when you can radically cut back rosemary. This rejuvenation pruning is especially beneficial for heavily woody plants that have not been pruned for a while.

  • Cut off all shoots just above the woody parts of the plant.
  • The growth nodes are located on the non-woody parts of the branches, which is where the rosemary sprouts again.
  • This prevents the rosemary from growing endlessly upwards and the woody, bare parts of the branches from becoming longer and longer.
Pile of harvested rosemary
Cut rosemary twigs can be used as a spice or as cuttings [Photo: pictureguy-303/]

After harvesting, rosemary is not only suitable to be used fresh; it is also wonderful for drying. You can find out everything you need to know about storing and preserving rosemary here.

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