With a warm, rich fragrance that imparts delicious Italian flavor to your recipes, oregano is an herb that is a staple of many home cooks. If you have started growing your own herbs, you may have a few pots containing several small oregano plants.
If you have carefully tended them for a few weeks, you may feel that it is time to harvest some leaves from your plant. At first, the idea of plucking a few leaves from the plant is no big deal. But, when you need a larger amount of oregano, that can make you a bit nervous.
You may have a lot of questions about cutting oregano from your plants. How often should I harvest my oregano? How can I cut the stems without killing the plant? How big should the plant be before I start using it? Will my harvesting hurt the plant?
All of these are excellent questions and it is great that you are thinking about it before you start cutting. To learn more about the harvesting process of oregano, read on to learn the answers to your questions.
How Should I Trim My Oregano Plant?
It’s pretty easy to trim bits from your oregano plant. While you can just break off leaves from the plant, it is actually better to snip whole stems from the plant and then take the leaves off of the stem. This will keep your plant from having long, naked stems with the foliage stripped off.
You may be tempted to pull leaves from the bottom of the plant, but this is not the best way of doing things. You want to cut the ends of the stems. Do not cut any stem shorter than half its length.
While you can simply break off the stems with your fingers, it is probably better to use a pair of sharp kitchen shears to trim the oregano stems. Scissors or shears will give you a clean cut that will not allow disease to infect your oregano plants.
Overall, you should never cut the plant back by more than half. Leaving about half of the plant will provide enough leaf matter to sustain the plant and encourage it to grow back. Never cut the plant all the way to the soil or you will probably kill it.
After you’ve harvested your oregano stems, look closely at the stems that are left behind. You should cut them back to a spot where two leaves meet. This spot is called a leaf node, and cutting plants at a leaf node encourages branching of the oregano plant.
How Big Should My Plant be Before I Harvest?
As with most herbs, you should cut oregano early and often. Doing this will encourage the plant to grow compact and bushy. As soon as the oregano plant has three true sets of leaves, it is time to pinch it back.
Of course, you will not get many leaves for your trouble, but this gentle pruning will encourage your oregano plant to put out new growth. New branches will form, and the plant will surprise you with how quickly it recovers from the pinching.
Your first bigger harvest will take place when the plant is five or six inches tall. At this time, you can cut the stems back by about half. Just cut the stems with sharp scissors.
Of course, you do not have to wait to harvest it all at once. You can cut pieces here and there as needed if you like, but you should give it a good trimming back several times over the course of your growing season if your plant’s stems start getting too long and floppy.
Cutting From the Top Down
When you trim leaves from your oregano plant, always trim from the top down. Every time that you cut a stem from the oregano plant, it will be stimulated to make more stems and leaves. It will also help the plant to branch out and grow bushy leaves rather than long dangly stems. Additionally, trimming the stem ends will keep the stems from getting overly woody.
If you want to hang your oregano stems for drying, you can simply cut long stems and then tie them together into bundles which you can hang upside down for drying.
When the leaves are completely dry, you can strip them off the stems and store them in jars in a cool dry place. Generally, if you harvest the leaves from the stems right before the plant creates flowers, they will have a greater concentration of the flavor oils that make oregano so tasty.
Will Cutting Oregano Hurt My Plants?
Actually, you may be surprised to hear it, but like most herbs, it is really good for the oregano plant to harvest it. When you snip pieces from leafy green plants like oregano, it stimulates hormones in the plant to encourage it to grow.
The bud at the end of a stem sends a hormonal message to the rest of the plant. This hormone is called auxin, and it tells the plant to stop growing more leaves! Of course, if you are growing a plant like oregano, the last thing that you want it to do is stop growing extra leaves.
When you snip off the end of the stem and remove that bud, the hormone is no longer present, and the plant gets the message that it should put out more leafy growth. This means that cutting more mature oregano stems encourages the plant to grow new, bushy leaves and soft, green stems. Cutting your oregano plants will encourage them to grow low and bushy rather than tall and straggly.
Another thing that cutting your oregano plant will do is discourage it from flowering. Most plants have a life cycle that includes growing, flowering, creating seeds and then dying back. This cycle usually coincides with the seasons. As an indoor gardener, your hope is to interrupt this natural cycle.
Trimming your oregano plant can help slow the flowering cycle of the plant. This is important because when herbs flower, their leaves often begin to taste more bitter or bland.
This is because the energy of the plant will start going into the flowers and seed making instead of creating flavorful foliage for your harvest. When you cut back your oregano plant, you will keep the plant from flowering so that you can enjoy more leaves for cooking.
How Long Should I Wait Between Harvests?
Usually, it takes oregano plants about two or three weeks to recover from harvesting. If you cut all of your stems at once, you may have to wait awhile before you can harvest again.
For this reason, many experienced gardeners do not cut all of the available oregano at once. They may cut back part of the plant, harvesting the tasty leaves, and leave other parts of the plant for harvesting in another week or two.
If you are a huge fan of oregano and you use lots of it in your cooking, you may want to have multiple pots of it growing in your kitchen window at varying stages of growth. This way, you can always have some oregano ready to go. As you can see, harvesting your oregano is no big deal once you understand how the process works.
Whether you want to use the fresh herb in your cooking or you want to dry bunches of it to enjoy when you don’t have fresh oregano available, your plants will be happy to give you all that you need. And that is the cool thing about gardening. If you provide what your plants need, they will reciprocate by giving you the things that you need.