Basil 101: How to Prune Basil for the Best Basil Harvest

Herb Gardening

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow! With just a little pruning and love, you can add some fresh flavor to your table all summer long without much effort or investment.

Basil plants growing

A Neverending Supply of Basil

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 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.

How to Prune Basil

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.

Why Prune Basil

You probably can already see how pruning your plants will help you. The pruned plants will be bushier and healthier, and easier to harvest. If you don’t prune your basil regularly, it can get long and spindly, directing its energy into growing upward to get more sunlight. The leaves simply won’t be as tender and sweet on neglected basil plants.

Snip Your Flowers

Another trick for keeping your basil productive is to snip the flowers as soon as you see them before your basil bolts. 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. 

By keeping your basil from forming flowers, you preserve the flavor and longevity of your basil. When the plant starts producing flowers, its energy goes into making seeds. The leaves will not be as tender but will start to toughen up, and the sweet flavor of the basil will take on a more licorice note that some find unappealing.

If you do find you’ve missed a plant and it’s too late, you can either clear it out or let it go to seed completely. Be sure to collect the new seeds for your next round of basil planting.

Too Much Basil? Impossible

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.

homemade basil pesto in a jar

Propagating Basil from Trimmings

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 baby plants is another way to impress your friends and spread the love around. Everyone should learn the joy of eating sunny fresh basil straight off the plant. 

Written by Teresa Chandler