How To Prune Oregano: How to Cut Back This Culinary Herb 

Oregano is a beloved herb renowned for its flavorful, aromatic leaves, which are staples in Mediterranean cuisine. As a perennial with soft woody stems, oregano thrives when pruned regularly, ensuring its health and productivity. In this guide, we’ll explore how to prune oregano, along with tips on how to trim and care for this versatile herb, whether it’s growing in your garden or in pots.

My neighbor asked me to prune her oregano cascading out of a large plastic terra cotta pot, and I said, “Heck yeah.” Not only do I love pruning (my nickname was “Prunella” years ago!), but I was also lending Mary a hand. She hadn’t pruned this herb for over two years. It was time for the overdue pruning of this oregano plant so all that tender new growth could appear as the weather warmed.

Note: This post was published on 2/ 06/2018.  It was updated on 6/13/2024.

How To Prune Oregano

An overgrown oregano plant trailing out of a pot which needs pruning.
This is how the oregano looked before pruning ; dense as can be with tough old growth & straggly stems way underneath. 

Why Oregano Needs Pruning

Perennial herbs like lavender, rosemary, or thyme plants have harder woody stems. Oregano, like mint or sweet marjoram, has softer woody stems.  Those old stems will eventually get woody over time, especially in warmer climates. 

The plant becomes quite dense, making it harder for new growth to appear in spring and summer. This is why pruning is important. The fresh oregano leaves are much tastier than the tougher, older ones. I prune my mint, thyme, and marjoram in the same way—out with the old and in with the new. 

Oregano is a great addition to any sunny herb garden. It’s a fast grower and a very productive plant, so you must give it space. Well-draining soil is a must to prevent a build-up of too much water, which can lead to root rot. It grows well in garden beds, containers, and rock gardens.

There are many oregano species and varieties. Many have a culinary use, and some are ornamental. Most have the same growing requirements except for the colored-leaf varieties like Golden Oregano that need protection from the strong afternoon sun. 

You see Greek Oregano in all these pictures and the video. 

When To Prune Oregano

Most oregano types are perennial herbs in USDA zones 5 and higher. In lower zones with colder winters, they’re grown as annuals.

The best time to prune oregano is in winter or early spring, depending on your zone. I live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and did this pruning towards the end of January. In colder climates, it’s best to wait until spring when the danger of a freeze has passed. You don’t want to force out all that new growth and then have it hit.

I grew up in Connecticut, where we left the oregano in the fall and threw some hay over it for protection. We removed the hay in spring and did the big pruning. Depending on your zone, starting in early spring is fine.

Oregano plants grow fast and benefit from a mid-season pruning right after flowering. That will stimulate even more of that tasty new growth. I now grow Greek Oregano in my raised herb garden and prune it twice a year to prevent it from getting woody like the one you see here.

Are you new to herb gardening? Here are Essentials for the Herb Garden plus Herb Gardening for Beginners to get you started.

Oregano stems are atop a kitchen counter next to tomatoes, ready for use in a cooking recipe.

How To Prune Oregano Step By Step

Note: You prune oregano in this same manner, whether it’s in a pot or in the ground.

This isn’t one of those finesse pruning jobs. You’re basically chopping off all the old growth to make way for the new. Yours may not be this overgrown, so only a light pruning will be needed. 

Make sure your pruners are clean and sharp. It’ll make the job so much easier. I used two pruners – my Felco 2 for the big pruning and my Fiskar Micro Pruners for the “finesse” work at the end. I’ve used both of these tools for over thirty years, and love them!

Water your oregano at least one day before. You don’t want to prune a stressed plant, especially when it’s as overdue as this one.

Here’s what I did: I made my way around the plant, cutting it all the way back about 3″. That’s when you can really start to see the new growth hiding underneath an oregano as dense as this one. Yes, it’s what you call hard pruning, but this is what an overgrown oregano really needs.

The 2nd round of pruning was much lighter and removed some of the dead woody stems and leggy softer stems. I like to do this because it makes the plant look a little better. You can skip this step if you’d like but I prefer to clean things up as much as possible.

Let’s be real. After the clean-up is complete, your oregano isn’t pretty and will look like it’s been scalped for about a month or so!

Note: It’s best to keep up on the pruning throughout the season rather than cut it back to the base of the plant like I did here. If your oregano hasn’t been pruned in a few years like this one, you’ll definitely get a bountiful harvest.

Just be warned: many of the fresh leaves will be thicker and tougher on the older stems. You could wrap them in cheesecloth and use them to flavor a stock, sauce, or soup you’re making.

You’ll want to check out these 22 Herbs for Cooking and these Herbs for Full Sun.

An oregano plant is shown growing outdoors hooked up to irrigation lines.
The poor oregano was trying to come back but is struggling!

Post Pruning Care

Make sure your plant is in a sunny location. Water when the soil is dry or almost dry. How often that is depends on your climate. I never let mine completely dry in the strong Arizona sun and heat.

Harvesting Oregano

The best time to harvest this flavorful herb is during the growing season. I love fresh oregano and harvest it in the early morning or early evening when the Arizona summer heat is on. In the cooler months, I harvest it anytime. 

The fresh leaves are tasty, but they dry well, too. Using dried oregano from your garden in the winter for all your soups, stews, and sauces is a treat. Some say the best flavor is fresh, and some like dried better. Your choice, my friend! How you store oregano depends on when you plan to use it and what you want to do with it. 

Oregano is easy to dry, and I’ve always air-dried my herbs. The drying process takes one to three weeks. 

If you prune off the flowers, you’ll get more leaf growth. You can use them as garnish. I’ve also added stems with flowers to small bouquets for that wild, homegrown look.

You don’t have a garden? No worries! Here are guides on Growing Basil in Pots, Growing Parsley in Pots, & Growing Thyme in Pots.

A freshly pruned oregano plant is growing outdoors in a container.
This is how it looks post-pruning.  Some small, woody stems still remain, but they’ll be covered up soon. Not a sight to behold, but just you wait – that new growth will spring forth in no time.

How To Prune Oregano FAQs 

How often should I prune oregano?

Pruning will contribute to the plant’s health. Your oregano will need one or two prunings a year, one at the beginning of the season and another mid- or end-of-summer to keep the plant full and bushy. Young plants can be left alone until they get established and are well on their way. 

Why is my oregano plant leggy?

This perennial plant lives more than one season in zones 5 and up. It may be getting leggy because it hasn’t been pruned in a long time. Another reason is the lack of direct sunlight. The stems will become weaker and stretched out, reaching towards the light.

Can I cut oregano back to the ground?

I cut this one back to 2-3″ above the ground. It’s not what I would recommend on a regular basis, but this plant needed it. Oregano loves the heat and comes back fast once the weather starts to warm. 

Four years later, as I updated this post, the oregano picture here is healthy and looks good.
It’s best to keep up with the pruning every season, cutting the growth back by 50% or so. You can also thin out some stems if you’d like. The new growth (the tasty stuff!) emerges from the base of the plant, so you want to open it up a bit. 

Be sure to check out our Herbs Category for many more herb gardening articles.

Pruning Oregano Video Guide

You want to do this pruning (especially if your oregano is overgrown like this one) to encourage all that new growth. The newer leaves have a better flavor than the older, tougher ones.

Don’t be timid about this. You want to expose the new growth to sunlight and air. The oregano you see here was so thick that the new growth would have had a very hard time growing through it.

I topdress my herb bed with a 2-3″ layer of a compost/worm compost blend in late winter/early spring. This will be the feeding these herbs get for the entire season.

A pile of oregano stems is outdoors on a brick patio.
The pile of twisted oregano stems. This aromatic herb sure gives off a strong, heady scent when pruned!

Conclusion: Regular pruning is key to maintaining a healthy, bushy, and productive oregano plant. By following these simple steps, you can ensure that this flavorful herb thrives, providing you with abundant leaves for your favorite dishes. Here’s to a season of healthy growth and delicious flavors! 

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

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Close up of the fresh growth of an oregano plant the text at the bottom reads pruning an oregano plant a perennial herb with soft woody stems.

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  1. Thank you! My oregano was beautiful…but preventing new ones to come…it will break my heart to prune that radically…will do though.

  2. Hi Vera – This oregano came back with such beautiful, fresh new growth. And the scent when pruning … makes you hungry for lasagne! Nell

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