How to prune basil

Published on April 14, 2021

Growing basil in your garden or on your patio is a cinch. It’s a great way to add some fresh flavor to your table without a lot of work or investment. Considering the price of store-bought basil, it’s a no-brainer in terms of making your garden work for you. A well-pruned basil plant is bushy and provides more leaves with better flavor for a longer season. It’s really easy to maintain and creates an ever-lasting supply of this delicious herb. Once you learn how to care for basil, you may never buy it at the store again.

mature basil plant

Once your basil plant is about 6 inches tall or so with two branches of leaves, you can start pruning. You want to cut the stem right above the last set of leaves. If you look at your plant carefully, you can see that every set of leaves has a smaller set growing in the opposite direction. That’s where your plant will begin sending out new branches, so you can see how this will be beneficial for creating bushier, healthy plants. If you don’t prune your basil regularly, it can get long and spindly, putting its energy into growing upward. The leaves won’t be as tender and delicious.

Another trick for keeping your basil productive is to always snip the flowers as soon as you see them forming. This process is called bolting. When the flower starts to form, it looks like a small pyramid or stack of leaves growing out of the top of the plant. Use scissors or even your fingers to pinch that off before flowers form. The reason for doing this is to preserve the flavor and longevity of your basil. When the plant starts producing flowers, it’s putting energy into making seeds. The leaves will not be as tender but will start to toughen up, and sweet flavor of the basil will take on a more licorice note that some find unappealing.

If you find you’ve got more basil than you can use immediately with these pruning techniques, congratulations! What a great problem to have! Making pesto is a delicious way to use up a lot of the herb quickly. Long-term storage of basil is also simple. You can dry it, or blend it up and freeze it for later use, or you can even share it with your friends.

basil pesto

One last tip: You can store your basil trimmings with the stems in water to use later. If you forget and your snipping starts to grow roots, surprise! You’ve just propagated basil without even trying. Change the water out every few days, and once you’ve got some good growth, transplant to a pot. Sharing these plants is another way to impress your friends and spread the love. Everyone should learn the joy of eating sunny fresh basil straight off of the plant.

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