Why Is My Rosemary Woody? Expert Tips

There are several reasons why your rosemary may be woody. The herb could be dried out and not hydrated enough, or it may be old and past its prime.
A closeup image of a rosemary.

Rosemary plants are an excellent addition to every garden. They are a perfect herb for every hobby cook. You can use its leaves to flavor various foods and drinks. If you don’t have an outdoor garden, you can still grow it indoors in pots. However, one of the most common issues with rosemary is that it can sometimes get woody making it unsuitable for use in cooking. But what exactly causes rosemary to get woody? You should know exactly why your rosemary is turning woody by the time you are done reading this.

So, why is my rosemary woody? One of the most common causes of woody rosemary is improper watering. Many gardeners give too much water to their plants, drowning them in moisture. Rosemary prefers drier soil. The other causes of this problem include lack of pruning, overgrowth, plant age, and exposure to the sun. Sometimes, the plant may still turn woody even if you do everything right. This is not surprising because it is natural for rosemary to turn woody since it is a shrub.

This blog post discusses some of the reasons your rosemary might be turning woody and what you can do to prevent this from happening. Read on to learn more.

Rosemary Plant: Overview of Optimum Growing Conditions

Rosemary is naturally a sun-loving and heat-tolerant shrub, but it also thrives in cooler temperatures of between 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The plant will survive through winter as long as the light is strong enough. The shrub is hardy and can survive a lack of sunlight exposure and water for an extended period.

This makes it a popular plant among beginners. In its natural habitat, rosemary does well in relatively warm areas with good humidity.

Rosemary in a pot.
The plant will survive through winter as long as the light is strong enough.

It can reach up to five feet tall under optimal conditions. The plant grows so much that it can become a bit of a burden if you don’t manage it properly.

Tuscan Blue is one of the tallest varieties of rosemary. This variety can grow up to six feet tall, given the right conditions. Its leaves are quite broad, producing dark blue flowers during spring.

The Golden Rain is perhaps the shortest variety since it doesn’t grow past three feet tall. It has golden yellow leaves and produces dark blue flowers. This rosemary species is excellent for growing indoors in pots since it is relatively easier to manage.

What Causes Rosemary to Become Woody?

Many gardeners have probably encountered this problem at one point or another in their gardening adventures. But what really causes rosemary to become woody? Let us find out:

1. Lack of Pruning

One of the common reasons for woody rosemary is lack of pruning. The shrub needs occasional trimming to maintain its shape and promote fresh growth.

Remember that in the Mediterranean heat, these plants are pruned naturally. Brooding summers, thin soils, and relatively strong winds greatly ensure the shrub doesn’t get bushy.

Growing it in a relatively wetter, milder climate means you have to go further to ensure it remains in good shape.

Consider pruning your rosemary once or twice a year to maintain its nice shape. The best time to prune your rosemary is early spring or late summer.

Harvesting the young leaves and twigs regularly is considered part of the pruning schedule, but you still need to do some shaping to maintain a neat shape.

A peron pruning rosemary.
Remember that in the Mediterranean heat, these plants are pruned naturally.

To prune your rosemary, you will need a sharp knife or pair of pruning shears. You must be careful not to cut the plant at the wrong parts.

Start by removing the dead branches and fading blooms. Feel free to cut off the dead branches at the base and plug the faded blooms with your hand. Also, cut dead shoots to the first pair of green leaves to allow them to grow afresh.

Be careful not to cut woody stems because it will only damage your rosemary and won’t stimulate new growth.

In fact, if you cut the woody parts of the shrub too much, it won’t develop new shoots in that area. The effects can be fatal if the cutting is severe.

Avoid cutting below the leaves since this is where the new growth buds are located. Don’t forget to remove branches that cross over and form a tangled mess.

What Can I Do with the Cuttings After Pruning?

Once you are done with pruning, cut the stems and use them in your culinary recipes or make a bunch of them dry for winter.

Rosemary has more than 40 types of essential oils, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that can be used for medicinal purposes. You can also use the fresh cuttings to propagate new plants.

2. Overwatering

Another reason rosemary might become woody is due to overwatering. This plant needs enough water to grow, but too much water can quickly cause its demise. Too much water will make the soil soggy and prevent oxygen from reaching the roots.

This is why you need to ensure your rosemary is planted in well-draining soil and gets enough sunlight exposure.

A person watering rosemary in a pot.
This plant needs enough water to grow, but too much water can quickly cause its demise.

Essentially, the shrub should be watered only when the top inch of soil has dried out completely. An easy way to check this is by sticking your finger into the soil up to an inch deep. If it feels dry, water the plant.

In winter, when temperatures are relatively mild, reduce watering a bit since the plant doesn’t need as much water as it does during hot summer days. You can also lay mulch on top of the soil to help retain moisture and reduce water evaporation.

3. Overgrowth

This is also a common cause of woody rosemary. When a shrub is planted in ideal and well-drained soil, it will grow tall and wide and eventually become woody.

To prevent your rosemary from becoming too large, you must trim its tips periodically.

This reduces the size of the bush while stimulating new growth at the same time. Doing this will ensure the plant remains bush-like and does not become too large.

4. Freeze Damage or Dying Rosemary

If you notice an increased presence of bare stems on your rosemary plant after winter, it may be a sign that your plant didn’t survive.

We have mentioned that the best time to prune your plant is early spring or late summer to protect it from extremely low temperatures.

Anything below 17 degrees Fahrenheit is considered too low for a rosemary plant to survive.

If you live in an area that experiences such low temperatures during winter, consider covering your plant with a frost cover to protect it.

Keep in mind that the succulent’s main requirements for survival are lots of sunlight, warm temperatures, and succulent soil with good drainage.

Rosemary outdoor in snow.
Anything below 17 degrees Fahrenheit is considered too low for a rosemary plant to survive.

These are the conditions in its natural habitat. If your plant doesn’t get these conditions, it won’t survive too long.

Typically, a rosemary plant requires about 10-12 hours of direct sunlight during the active growing season and at least eight hours during the dormancy period.

Failure to adhere to these guidelines and maintain your rosemary plant’s health will make it woody.

You must also ensure the soil is light, sandy, gritty, and well-draining. Avoid heavy soils that may take too long to drain, resulting in root rot.

5. Natural Woodiness

As rosemary plants age, they tend to become woodier as well. This is natural and normal for the plant. To ensure the growth of new shoots, you should still prune your plant in spring or late summer.

This will help prevent it from becoming too overgrown and encourage fresh foliage to grow and bloom again. You can also use a balanced fertilizer to replenish the soil nutrients and help your rosemary thrive.

How Can I Keep My Rosemary from Turning Woody?

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your rosemary plant stays healthy and doesn’t become woody. You need to understand the lifecycle of your shrub and take deliberate steps to keep it in great shape.

Typically, most stem growth of these shrubs occurs in spring and summer. It is more likely that some of the new growth will harden and turn woody during the dormant season. Once this happens, the plant’s stem won’t grow again for the rest of its life.

As mentioned earlier, it is natural for rosemary plants to turn woody as they age. It is part of their lifecycle.

However, regular pruning can do quite a good job of preventing it from becoming woody. Proper pruning also encourages young branches and leaves to grow pretty quickly.

Rosemary in a white pot.
It is natural for rosemary plants to turn woody as they age.

And it is not just about pruning. Regular watering and feeding are also important.

Keeping your rosemary plant in a warm and sunny spot, with well-drained soil, will also help it stay healthy and look vibrant. Water your rosemary regularly and feed it well to keep it healthy.

But you should be careful not to overwater because this can cause root rot. Also, avoid planting your rosemary in poorly drained soil because it will also damage the roots and make them woody.


These are some of the common causes of woody rosemary. With proper care and pruning, your rosemary should remain in good shape and produce healthy foliage for many years. Just remember to give your plant enough sunlight, water, and well-draining soil for better results.

Last update on 2024-02-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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