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When the word basil comes to mind, many of us visualize delicious pizza, luxurious pesto, and fresh summer salads. As a mainstay in an innumerable amount of dishes, this plant is one of the most popular herbs in the world.
The easy-care of Basil also makes it a gardening favorite. Its presence has graced many a garden and numerous kitchens as a beloved herb that needs heat, sunlight, and just the right amount of water.
With great care and proper pruning techniques, one plant can produce enough leaves for a jar of pesto and extra toppings for your other dishes.
But what exactly is pruning? In this guide, you will learn how to prune Basil plants to achieve massive growth and enjoy this fantastic herb.
Introducing the Basil
Basil, also known as Ocimum basilicum is an herb from the Lamiaceae family. This leafy green originates from Africa, Europe, and parts of Southeast Asia. As such, Basil enjoys strong sunlight, warmer temperatures, and moist soil.
There are different varieties of basil plants that delight gardening and culinary communities with their own unique flavor. For example, the Basil Genovese plant from Italy tantalizes the tastebuds with its peppery, fresh flavor, while the Thai Basil plant from Asia has a more muted, subtle touch on the tongue.
Basil plants can grow all year round in warmer climates; it does not tolerate frost. It is known as a ‘cut and come again’ plant because soon after harvesting, it will continue to grow and thrive.
Basil is so easy to grow that this plant is ready for harvesting as quickly as 7-8 weeks. With the right pruning techniques, Basil plant harvests can multiply over the course of the summer. (Related Article: How To Grow Herbs in Your Kitchen)
Basil Plant Growth
The Basil plant has a rapid life cycle, so growing basil from a small seed to a big harvest is fun and easy. As a recommendation, you’ll want to start Basil seeds in the spring or summer season.
When grown from seeds, young basil seedlings take about a week or two (7-14 days) to emerge from the soil. Afterward, the growth of the plant is almost rapid.
Basil Active Growth and Flowering
Basil plants produce foliage at a prolific pace. With multiple leaves growing from their stems, Basil plants soon grow as tall as 24-inches within a season. Harvesting can be done after 7-8 weeks.
The growth habit of Basil allows it to grow from a single stem. When pruned, this single central stem branches out into multiple side stems.
Basil flowers grow within the first year. A Basil plant produces flower buds that turn into purple or white blooms in the garden. During the flowering stage, the branches and stems of the basil will turn woody as it matures.
Pruning: The Basics
What is Pruning?
To prune or trim is the act of cutting off parts of a plant to achieve a desired result. In some gardens, pruning is used to shape bushes and stems for an aesthetic preference. For most vegetable and herb gardens though, pruning is an essential method to stimulate growth and encourage a big, bushy plant.
In this guide, the words pruning, cutting, and trimming are used interchangeably to mean the same thing.
Pinching vs. Pruning
Basil is usually harvested through a method called pinching. Pinching is a technique that is as simple as it sounds; it involves picking fresh Basil leaves with your fingers. This is usually done on the leaves of the plant, while pruning is done on the stem of the plant.
Pruning Basil Plants 101
What Tools To Prune With
The best way to prune basil is through using garden shears, a specialized tool to trim your plant. Plain scissors can be used, too. Make sure these tools are cleaned before use to avoid infecting your basil plant.
Make sure to wash your garden shears/scissors/hands before and after pruning to keep your basil plant free from infection.
Where To Prune Basil
Pruning basil is easy once you’re able to find exactly where to cut. A basil plant grows leaves from a main, central stem. Make sure to cut at the middle or top of the plant instead of the bottom.
3 Easy Steps To Pruning Basil
- Your basil plant’s central stem will grow in pairs of leaves. Find the point where big leaves are growing; search for two tiny, fine leaves near (usually above) those large leaves.
- Cut and remove the main stem above the small leaves and leave 1/2 inch of the stem.
- Repeat the process. Wait two or three weeks to cut the plant again, to encourage growth.
Once multiple branches are formed from the central stem, feel free to cut above the tiny leaves that grow on them, too. This process can be repeated, so prune often.
When To Prune Basil
Wait until your plant grows 6 inches tall to prune basil for the first time. After this first prune, return to your garden every two to three weeks to prune your basil.
Ideally, pruning should be done when the plant is still young and tiny to maximize growth. Don’t wait until later; cut basil stems early in the season to encourage bushiness (best done before the late summer).
QUICK TIP: A basil plant stops producing leaves after it puts out flowers. Make sure your basil does not flower so that it will keep pushing out new leaves. Cut basil flower buds so that the plant can refocus its energy on growing leaves.
Basil leaves become very bitter after the plant produces its first flower; the leaf is still edible, but the flavor can be too strong for some.
Why Prune Basil?
Pruning basil plants is one of the best methods to promote abundant growth. It not only guarantees more basil leaves but helps maintain the overall health of the plant.
Prune basil plants for these benefits:
- Bushy Growth — Trimming certain parts of a Basil will enable it to grow its leaves exponentially. From one central stem, pruning allows Basil plants to grow multiple branches for harvest!
- Healthier Plants — Cutting basil stems allows you to remove yellowing, dying leaves to preserve the health of your plant.
- Neat Appearance —Pruning back your Basil plant often will allow growth that looks bushy instead of tall and leggy.
Additional Care: How To Keep and Store Basil
With stellar pruning, Basil leaves can soon be harvested as often as desired. Feel free to pinch off a fresh leaf or three (or twenty) from your plant whenever you want.
Fresh Basil leaves will keep for one week in the fridge. Basil will also keep in the freezer for a month or two, but it’s best to use the plant immediately. You’ll want to keep your Basil harvest in an airtight bag to prolong freshness.
Make sure to also keep the leaves out of direct sunlight to lengthen freshness and longevity. (Related Article: Fresh Herbs To Dry)
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Basil grow back after you cut it?
Yes, and no. The part of the basil that will not grow back is the main stem you cut on. However, side branches from the main stem will begin growing to replace the cut part. So, you’ll want to prune stems whenever possible!
Should I cut the top or bottom of the plant?
Cut from the top of the plant. The bottom leaves of the Basil are used by the plant to photosynthesize, so avoid trimming that part. Plus, the top part of the plant has fresher, tastier leaves! You will want to keep at least half an inch of the stem intact when trimming.
Quick Summary of Pruning Basils
Basil is a heat and sunlight-loving plant that grows quite rapidly. Usually, this plant can grow up to 2 feet tall with the proper care. Basil leaves can be harvested after 7-8 weeks; it is a very easy plant to grow and care for.
One regular basil plant can produce enough leaves for pasta, pesto, and pizza dishes. But, if you want to maximize yield and harvest, you will have to prune it. This will encourage bushy growth and tons of leaves.
What is pruning? Pruning is a method that relies on trimming off parts of a plant to increase your harvest. Pruning basil is relatively easy. Wait for the plant to grow 6 inches tall and cut off half an inch from the central stem.
Soon afterward, the cut part will shoot out multiple side stems. This will branch out the plant exponentially. Trim the stems of your basil plant as early in the season as possible.
If you wait too long, your plant may not be able to focus its energy on growing leaves. Harvesting can also be prolonged by trimming off flower buds, so the plant can focus on foliage growth. Remember to keep your pruning tools as clean as possible, before, during, and after the process, too.
After pruning your basil, all you have to do is wait. Once new branches start forming, you’ll be enjoying massive basil harvests! Use your basil for pesto, pizza, pasta, and even curry. (Related Article: The Ultimate List of Perennial Vegetables)
Basil can be stored in the fridge for a week. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to two months. Remember to keep the leaves in an airtight container to maximize freshness.
Prune often and prune early. The more you prune, the more side stems and leaves you will have for harvesting.
Soon enough, you’ll have more basil than you could ever imagine. As the Italians love to say when enjoying their food, buon appetito!