Backyard Bliss | Pruning woody herbs for better growth

CURB YOUR HERB: Left alone, some herbs like sage, rosemary, curry bush, oregano, chamomile will become leggy, sparse and woody at their base. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.

CURB YOUR HERB: Left alone, some herbs like sage, rosemary, curry bush, oregano, chamomile will become leggy, sparse and woody at their base. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.

We've got an extensive collection of herbs for culinary, medicinal and garden health purposes and while they mostly need nothing from us, I do give the woody herbs a drastic haircut each year to bring on fresh, abundant growth.

Left alone, herbs like sage, rosemary, curry bush, oregano, chamomile will become leggy, sparse and woody at their base.

To manage this, you can literally cut them back to the ground (or close to), allowing them to grow a whole new plant above ground.

Take our curry bush (helichrysum italicum) for instance. It's been quietly cranking in our herb garden and was well overdue for a big haircut.

As you can see in the pictures, the stems where becoming leggy and unproductive and if you look at the base of the plant you can also see fresh growth starting to grow, searching for sunlight.

All you need to do is get a sharp pair of secateurs and cut the bush back close to the ground. You can also do this before you see fresh growth coming from the base, in which case you can cut it back to pretty much ground level. While it initially looks a bit shocking, this little stump won't take long to bush up nicely.

But what should you do with all that leaf? Usually we make small bunches of all our herbs and dry them for using in the kitchen, however we don't use a huge amount of curry bush, so what we don't dry, we put it back into the garden as mulch. You can also take some cuttings to propagate more plants.

In the same garden we've also cut back our sage plants, salvia officinalis and salvia elegans, and in just a few weeks you can already see their fresh, strong growth.

To reduce the shock from going to having a very bushy, large herb patch to one full of small "stumps", you can stage the pruning sessions like I've done - it can help the visual side of things a bit if you have some fresh growth among the other stumps.

If this is your first time, just remember - it's really, really hard to kill these types pf perennial herbs, so there's no need to be shy or nervous.

If you're wondering what herbs you should include in your herb patch, here's a few suggestions: common garden mint, Rau ram (Vietnamese mint), borage, feverfew, echinacea, calendula, chamomile, pineapple sage, purple sage, rosemary, nasturtiums, oregano, Lemon verbena, french tarragon, thyme, curry bush, parsley, coriander (thrives in the cooler months), basil (in warmer months) and chives. We also recommend yarrow, comfrey and plantain.

If you're looking to find out more about growing herbs - you must explore Herbal Harvest, a book written by Greg Whitten who lives in Tasmania and runs the Goulds Herb Farm.

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a permaculture landscape design and education enterprise creating resilient, regenerative lives and landscapes.