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Monday, May 9, 2016

Herb hairstyles and how to groom them


Herbs are among the most easy-going plants around, but left to their own devices they can become a mirrored, botanical gallery of your worst-ever hair days. (You have them, right? I'm not the only one?)

I must excuse the annuals from these style crimes. Because basil, cilantro and dill last only one season in most climates, they don't develop the same crazy growing patterns that can befall perennial woody herbs like sage, thyme, lavender and rosemary.


Thyme in need of pruning.
The thyme comb-over. Strands of least season's stems compete for attention with this year's new green growth, making the plant look straggly, sparse and well, silly. No, this isn't fooling anyone.  The solution: cut the plant back by at least half this spring to allow the plant to grow into a bushier shape. 

The unwieldy no-style sage, with nary a trim in a decade. 

We're not talking Crystal Gayle's luxurious below-the-waist locks. This is more like never getting a cut AND never brushing. Perma-bedhead. If you never prune a woody herb it will still produce green shoots at the end of last year's growth, sure, but its stem structure will also get larger. Eventually you will have a plant that is more wood than herb. 

This woody mess is a sage plant after I started hacking away at stems. I brought it home from the nursery in a 2-inch pot probably 10 years ago. I always cut away spent blossoms, but I should have pruned far lower. Yes, it had new growth this spring at the very edges, but I was surprised how much bare wood it sported.  It has clearly outgrown its space in a rock border by my garden box. 

Solution: Time to go in favor of starting with smaller plants again.

This picture shows the length of bare wood before green begins.

Size of the rootball from a 10-year-old dug up sage plant.

The oregano mullet, with last year's faded extensions.

Oregano, also a perennial herb, differs from thyme and sage in that it doesn't form woody stems that continue to get larger each season. Oregano can grow tall but it flops over and hugs the soil; it almost looks like a ground cover this way. Its new leaves start low to the ground beneath last year's stems. Solution: Cut out those stems.

Oregano spreads, but not nearly as invasively as mint. Mint is that bear of a guy at the beach: hair with no boundaries! If you grow mint, do so in a container. If you want mint in the ground, plant it container and all.

The best way to style herbs is to harvest them all season. Pinch off flower heads from annuals like basil to encourage round, bushy growth. Cut back perennial woody herbs by half at least once a year: in fall, spring or both. 

My last herb style shows how these plants truly can grow anywhere: the parsley tuft in the ear, I mean, crack in the sidewalk. It's staying!


daisy gurl said...

Ha! What a clever post, Jennifer! I think I need to go out and trim the thyme again. It's definitely suffering from the comb-over look. And we know that no one can carry that off!

Thanks for sharing on this week's Maple Hill Hop!

Mike said...

Very clever post Jennifer. Awesome!