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Sunday, February 22, 2015

How to Correct a Bad Haircut on Rosemary

Q. I have a rosemary bush in the front yard that's very healthy but has grown quite big in the seven years since it was planted. Is there a technique to trimming? I tried once before and it looked like a really bad haircut.

A. Rosemary can be quite dense in its interior if it is watered and fertilized normally. It becomes denser if it is pruned with a hedge shears. If rosemary is very dense, very little light penetrates inside the canopy. This lack of interior light causes leaf drop resulting in an interior that is only wood.

Pruning with a hedge shears results in a surface layer of green foliage only an inch or two deep. This surface layer of green foliage is new growth which has been sheared. If left draped over a wall, the new growth may be several inches long.

Dramatic pruning of an older plant can result in that “bad haircut” you mention that reveals its woody interior. The only portion that can be removed safely without causing a “bad haircut” is a small portion of the green surface layer.

Rosemary will regrow once it has a bad haircut but it takes time and you and others are forced to look at the bad haircut until it grows back during warm weather. Any extensive pruning of rosemary that can result in a bad haircut should be delayed until warm weather.

You have two options. The first is to go ahead and give it a bad haircut beginning in about April knowing full well will take time to recover. The second is to remove older plants and replace them with younger plants that you can begin to shape at an early age.

Once pruning has been initiated with a hedge shears, the shape of the plant is difficult to correct. If you wanted to be an ornamental rosemary is one of the easiest plants to prune. It adheres to any shape you want to give it.

At Christmas time rosemary is available in nurseries in many stores shaped into 3 to 4 foot tall Christmas trees. I've seen it planted around trees and the shrub is carved out around the trunk. I've seen it planted in a raised planter and cut off along the wall like bangs of the haircut.

I prefer a more normal look which used to reach deep inside the plant and remove older wood. Every time you make a cut, it is hidden by the growth that's remaining. If you prune like this, it will never look like you even touched it except it smaller.

Look for the growth that is longest, follow the stem back inside the canopy of the plant to a place where there is side growth or side branch. Cut just above this side branch so the side branch can continue to grow but you are removing the longer stem.

Usually you would do this in three or four locations. Depending on how restrained you want the rosemary to be, you might do it annually or every 2 to 3 years.

Prostrate rosemary in natural form in rock landscape

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