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Kalyn's Kitchen

Trimming the Perennial Herbs in Spring (2012 Garden Update Number 1)

Nothing says Spring like perennial herbs starting to show some green!

Salt Lake has been having spring-like weather lately, so on one of those warm days I went out in the garden and trimmed most of my perennial herbs, making way for the green shoots to appear.  When I mentioned on Twitter that I’d been trimming herbs, a few people asked about how to do it, so I thought I’d share how my herb beds looked after their spring trimming.  Nothing gets me more excited about summer than the appearance of fresh herbs in the garden, so I love seeing those little spots of green!  (Links to gardening sites contained within this post are purely for information purposes and are not meant to be an endorsement of the site.)

If you’re going to try growing herbs, you need to learn which are Perennial Herbs (those that come back year after year), which are Biennial Herbs (those that come back once after the first year) and which are Annual Herbs (those that have to be re-planted every year).  There can also be some differences based on the climate where you live; for example Rosemary is a perennial but in Utah it often dies if it’s a cold winter.  If you’re new to gardening, pay special attention to where you plant the Perennial Herbs because some travel around if they aren’t contained (mint) and others grow to be quite large bushes if they aren’t trimmed (sage, oregano, and rosemary).

Thyme is a perennial that dies down to what looks like a mass of sticks in the winter, but if you trim it down you will soon see tiny green leaves start to appear.  There are many types of thyme, all of which are fairly hardy and easy to grow.  (Those brown tubes are the drip watering system in my garden beds.)

Mint is one herb you may come to hate if you plant it where it can spread out, because it will overtake anything that’s planted nearby.  It’s best grown in a container, and I have my mint in a divided garden bed with the mint in the center section.  Mint grows like a weed, and the clumps of dead branches should be trimmed away every year.

Rosemary may or may not last through the winter, depending on what garden zone you live in, but this year we had a mild winter in Utah and the rosemary is very happy.  I didn’t trim this too vigorously because I liked the idea of having some early-season rosemary.

French Tarragon is another plant that looks like a bunch of dead sticks in the spring, but green leaves will pop up, so trim the sticks away to give the leaves a chance to start again.

Parsley is a biennial, so if you trim the thick stems from the previous year leaves will sprout out again the second year.

If you neglect your parsley plants a little in the fall and let them go to seed, the seeds that drop will sprout the next year in the spring.  These little clumps of curly parsley are starting from seeds.  (By the way, parsley is easy to grow from seeds you buy, but they take a very long time to sprout.)

For some reason my Italian Parsley is very eager to get started this year, which is just fine with me!

And of course Chives is always one of the first herbs to start back in the spring.   I have a hard time remembering to trim this in the fall, so I usually end up in the spring just pulling out the dead pieces.

I have a few other perennial herbs planted around my back yard.  The Sage and Purple Sage aren’t getting any leaves yet.  Lavendar is something I grow mostly for the flowers, and the plants are already covered with leaves, but I haven’t trimmed it yet.  I’ve also got some Golden Oregano and Marjoram plants that are still looking pretty dead, but they will be getting a trim pretty soon.

If you have herbs starting to show up in your garden, please let us know in the comments about what you’re growing and how they’re doing at this time of year.  You can see all my Garden Updates since 2006 or the 2012 Garden Updates if you’d like to see more about my garden.

(This post was syndicated on BlogHer.com under the title Spring is Here: Time to Trim Your Perennial Herbs. Thanks to the folks at BlogHer.com for featuring my work!)
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    19 Comments on “Trimming the Perennial Herbs in Spring (2012 Garden Update Number 1)”

  1. Yaay for parsley! Yes, I would cut the thyme way back so it's only an inch or two tall. Sometimes my thyme doesn't come back, but most of the time it does. It will depend on how cold it got there. (Fingers crossed!)

  2. I can't believe that my parsley is coming back, but it is!

    Question re thyme – it made it but its a bit dry and there are some more reddish leaves mixed with the green. Should I cut it way back ?


  3. Linnea, I'm always worried about the snow on my herbs too.

    Lisa, you will LOVE having your own herbs to cook with I promise!

  4. Every year I say that I'm going to grow some herbs in a pot. This post is inspiring me to get to it this year! Thanks for sharing Kalyn!

  5. OOOOH I love growing my own herbs! I will be planting for basil, parsley, and cilantro, and more basil for sure-here in Colorado it can still snow into May, so I'll give them a head start indoors before planting outside! I love spring and planting season!

  6. Wanda, happy trimming!

  7. Good timing…I was wondering what to do with all those sprouts of herbs coming up. Thanks!

  8. Dara isn't it fun seeing the herbs start to appear!

  9. I'm so excited to see some greenery on our herbs. We have a dedicated raised bed for herbs, as well as several pots. I need to get out there and start trimming. Thank you for the tips!

  10. Bill, sounds like you are off to a great start. I'm always in awe of people who start seeds early; I just can't seem to get that habit going at my house.

    Debbie, thanks for sharing how you created the new herb bed. I bet you're going to love it!

    TW, very exciting! Most herbs are pretty hardy; I am sure you're going to love gardening at home just as much as you do at the farm!

    Thu, how great to already be using herbs you have grown! BTW, I know Gina from Skinnytaste and just adore her!

  11. Hello! I'm new to this site (via skinnytaste.com) and loved seeing those herbs. This is my first year growing herbs from seedlings. I have basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, parsley, chives, sage. They are all in pots since we are renters in Pittsburgh with no yard. I started them after Christmas and we've been able to use the herbs already!

  12. This is exciting – I've decided to start a kitchen herb garden this year – my first real attempt to plant edible items at home. This primer is really helpful as I start to put my game plan together. (Wish me luck – in the past, my thumb has not exactly been green …)

  13. The parsley, chives and marjoram are all coming up already in last year's bed. I'm planting a new one this year, much larger than the tiny one I've had for several years.
    I'm going to have lots of room for culinary herbs like dill, basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary (which I overwintered indoors this year but it probably would have survived), thyme and for some fragrant and medicinals, too – lavender, chamomile, yarrow. I'm excited for gardening season!

  14. Sweet Basil, rosemary, kale, peppers hot and peppers green as well as zucinni, sweet peas, green beans tomatoes, and of course mint are thriving. All but the mint were started from seed about 6 or seven weeks ago in our west facing, plant window. Some were moved to the green house a month ago and the remainder this weekend.

    — Central California coast


  15. EM: You are going to LOVE having your own herbs. I know for sure the rosemary, oregano, mint, flat leaf parsley and thyme will do well in pots. Haven't tried growing things like kale and collars in a pot though.

    B&B: I am wondering why my sage is so slow this year. Sounds like you're off to a good start. Yes, I love the smell of the lavender as well as the purple flowers!

  16. My chives are popping up, as are my lavender, sage is looking bushy and the oregano is also up. I believe the milder winters here in georgia give us a head start. My favorite thing to see popping back to life is the lavender. Although I don't cook with it either, I love to just touch it and smell the scent on my way in the back door! Gotta love "aroma"therapy!

  17. Great post Kalyn! I am finally diving into planting / growing. I went to an organic, edible plant sale today and bought 3 types of lettuces, kale, collards, tot soi, rosemary, oregano, mint, flat leaf parsley and thyme. I have to grow them all in pots because our back patio is paved but I am really excited to start. Wish me luck!

  18. Lydia, isn't it exciting to see them popping up!

  19. My chives are up, too, and the rosemary that never overwinters is still green, because our winter has been so mild this year. Lemon thyme is just showing signs of greening, too. But that's it. You are way ahead of us!