Why Is Your Rosemary Turning Woody? Learn How to Keep It Fresh!

Rosemary can turn woody due to various reasons, including age, poor pruning, and environmental factors such as lack of water or exposure to cold weather. However, there are several ways to keep rosemary fresh and prevent it from turning woody
A rosemary in a pot with a hand spraying water.

Rosemary remains one of the most awesome herbs in your home garden. Native to the Mediterranean region, the herb adds a unique flavor to your recipes and provides a beautiful visual element with its dark-green leaves and spiky stems. You can even use its leaves to kill some insects. However, one common issue with rosemary is that it may start turning woody with time. You may end up with brittle leaves and stems, making the herb inedible. To help you out, we’ve provided some valuable tips to prevent your rosemary from becoming woody.

But why is your rosemary turning woody, and how can you keep it fresh? The answer lies in how well you take care of your plant – rosemary can become woody due to improper maintenance, such as lack of pruning, freeze damage, overwatering, and insufficient light. The herb may also turn woody due to its natural woodiness. The best way to keep your herb fresh is by pruning it on time, ensuring it receives sufficient light, and avoiding overwatering.

This blog post discusses some possible causes of rosemary turning woody and what you can do to keep it fresh. Read on to find out everything you need to know.

1. Natural Aging

While many of us believe that rosemary is a herb, the truth is that it is not. This plant is a woody dwarf shrub usually grown as a perennial. The only difference between rosemary and other shrubs is that it develops woodiness slowly.

If you notice your plant developing woodiness relatively quickly, it is a sign of an underlying issue you must solve to save it from potential death.

But given that the plant is a shrub, you should expect its stems to become thick and woody as it ages. Natural woodiness usually starts at the base of the plant.

A rosemary in a pot.
This plant is a woody dwarf shrub usually grown as a perennial.

This is perfectly normal and should not be a cause for concern. Natural woodiness can be easily prevented to avoid the excessive development of old wood in specific plant sections.

Even though rosemary is a natural evergreen plant, it will no longer produce its tasty and fragrant leaves when the stems get woody.

The natural woodiness process is a mechanism that helps the plant to survive the dry and rocky environment of its natural habitat. The woody layer protects it from drought, salt, and Mediterranean animals such as deer.

What Is the Solution?

Even though it is pretty hard to control natural woodiness, there are a few things that you can do to delay it or make it less prominent on your plant.

The best way to achieve it is by keeping your rosemary compact through regular pruning or harvesting.

Regular harvesting/pruning will prevent the base of your plant from getting woody. However, you must avoid cutting back the old wood because you make new shoots to grow out of the area. Instead, prune about five to six inches from the top of the plant.

Ensure the cutting only happens on the soft and bending part of the plant’s stem. Feel free to use the cutting in your cooking or propagate them in soil for new plants.

Also, consider thinning your older rosemary bushes occasionally. The primary objective is to remove some of the older stems to make way for new growth.

2. Lack of Pruning

In their natural habitat, rosemary is kept in its shape naturally. Brooding summers, thin soils, strong winds, and grazing animals all influence the shape of the herb.

In most gardens, these forces are absent. This is why it is essential to prune your rosemary to keep its desired shape and prevent it from becoming woody.

Pruning a rosemary.
It is essential to note that you must not prune your plant during the winter or fall season.

You can do manual pruning or use a pair of shears. Manual pruning is more suitable for bigger rosemary bushes, while shears should be used when dealing with thin stems.

It is essential to note that you must not prune your plant during the winter or fall season because it can damage the new shoots.

What Is the Solution?

The solution to lack of pruning is relatively straightforward – prune your rosemary shrub regularly.

You can always harvest the young leaves and stems at any time without causing problems to your plant.

The shrub will be fine if you don’t cut it off in half.

However, there are a few things you need to remember when pruning your rosemary. If you prune the plant at the wrong time, you may cause irreversible damage. You must also know the right time to prune.

Generally, spring or early summer is the best time to prune your rosemary.

Winter pruning may be catastrophic if you are not careful. This is because the shrub mainly grows during summer and spring. In fact, it slides into dormancy during winter.

You will need a sharp knife or pruning shears to accomplish the task. Shears are suitable for thin stems, while knives should be used only on thick ones.

The first thing you need to do when pruning is to get rid of the faded flowers and dead branches. Cut off the dead stems at their base.

The next thing you need to do is carefully trim about one to two inches from the outermost layer of the rosemary bush. Make sure you use your hand to feel the stem and confirm it is tender before cutting.

Avoid cutting deep into your rosemary bush. You can always pinch off excess leaves and smaller stems but leave enough healthy foliage on the shrub for it to survive and grow.

Remember to give the shrub a good shape by removing excessively bulging branches. This will help reduce the woody layer and maintain the desired shape of your rosemary bush.

3. Freeze Damage

It could imply frost damage if you notice bare stems on your rosemary after winter. Sometimes, your shrub may not even survive the cold season.

That is why it is highly recommended that you prune your shrub at the end of the flowering season, which happens in summer. This will play a critical role in protecting it from freezing temperatures.

A rosemary outdoors covered with snow.
Consider covering your rosemary with a high-quality frost cover to protect it.

Remember that temperatures below 18 degrees Fahrenheit are too low for rosemary to survive.

If you live in an area that experiences extremely low temperatures during winter, consider covering your rosemary with a high-quality frost cover to protect it.

The shrub usually requires relatively warm temperatures, soil with good drainage, and lots of sunlight to thrive. Please fulfill these conditions to make it easier for your plant to survive.

The shrub requires around ten hours of direct sunlight daily to survive the active growing season. The bare minimum is six hours of direct sunlight.

You must also ensure the soil is well-draining, sandy, and relatively gritty. Avoid planting the shrub in heavy soils that hold water for too long. This may lead to irreversible root rot and many other fungal diseases.

What Is the Solution to Frost Freeze?

The best solution to rosemary frost damage is prevention. Start with covering the shrub with a frost cover before winter approaches.

You may also need to bring your potted rosemary indoors in winter in an area that experiences freezing temperatures. Then, move it back outside when the temperatures become warm again.

It is also important to prune your rosemary at the right time. As mentioned, spring or early summer is the best time to prune.

4. Excessive Watering

Lastly, your rosemary may be turning woody due to overwatering. It is essential to know that rosemary only thrives with relatively low to moderate watering.

The shrub has a well-established root system; other adaptations make it highly drought resistant.

A person watering a rosemary in a pot,
It is essential to know that rosemary only thrives with relatively low to moderate watering.

However, it also means that it is highly susceptible to root rot. Therefore, you must be extra careful with your watering schedule. Only water your rosemary when the potting mix is completely dry.

What Is the Solution?

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to avoid overwatering a rosemary plant. Be careful with the amount of water and err on the side of underwatering if you are not sure of something.

Water your plant sparingly and allow the potting mix to dry completely between watering sessions. Always keep in mind that rosemary is native to dry climates.

An inch of water every one or two weeks is always enough to keep a rosemary plant healthy. You can cut down the watering to about one inch a month during winter.

Also, pay close attention to the composition of your potting mix. Ideally, you want a potting mix with excellent drainage properties.

Add sand and perlite to the soil to improve texture and ensure proper drainage.

Furthermore, consider using a drainage saucer or pot feet when watering to ensure your plant doesn’t stand in water. This will be critical in preventing root rot and other fungal infections that could lead to woodiness.


Woodiness in your rosemary shrub is natural and inevitable if you don’t take measures to control it. Regular pruning and harvesting are the best ways to prevent woodiness from taking over your plant.

The primary objective should be to keep the plant dense and bushy.

Other conditions, such as cold temperatures, excessive watering, and poor soil drainage, could also lead to woodiness.

A closeup image of a rosemary.
Regular pruning and harvesting are the best ways to prevent woodiness from taking over your plant.

It would be best to take preventive measures such as using frost covers, proper pruning techniques, and well-draining soil to ensure your rosemary doesn’t turn woody.

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

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