Cutting Back Basil: When and How to Prune Basil!

I always say there’s nothing better than a well-cut basil plant, and I mean it. Freshly grown basil leaves make every dish better. But that’s only the case if they’re harvested from a plant that has been properly pruned.

Cutting back basil is one of the most essential tasks in the entire process of growing this herb. You can grow your basil in the richest soil under the ideal sun. But if you forget to prune it, you will end up with low-quality leaves.

Don’t worry, though. This article will go through all the secrets behind proper basil pruning. By the end, you will learn all the tips needed to give your plant the best look.

Understand Your Basil

Let’s begin with understanding how basil grows. Basil belongs to the family of mints, so it isn’t a slow-growing plant. In fact, it grows pretty rapidly, but this isn’t everything you need to know about it.

Several sets of leaves grow on each “stem” of your basil plant. Each set grows from a node located somewhere on the stem.

If you look closer at these nodes, you’ll realize that most of them grow another set of very tiny leaves. Those are what we call “offshoots.”

cutting back basil

Each offshoot can grow into a massive stem once it’s stimulated. By stimulation, I mean all the growth hormones and nutrients flowing into it.

How do you achieve that? Pruning. Cutting one of your basil’s stems pushes the plant to find new places to grow. That’s how you get new branches growing.

Since most nodes grow two offshoots, you get two new branches in return every time you cut one branch of your basil.

That’s how you grow basil. You start with a one-stem plant that only provides a few leaves for garnish. Before you know it, you have a bush that provides excellent quantities of foliage for pesto!

When to Cut Back Basil

Knowing when to cut back basil is the first thing you must do. To be successful, you need to consider several principal factors.

In general, we know basil is a resilient plant. Even if you cut it back a bit earlier than the right time, it should grow back normally.

The best time to prune your basil is when it reaches around 6″ (15 cm) tall. At this height, it would be able to survive heavy trimming.

basil

Instead of looking at its height, you can know when to prune your basil by looking at the set of leaves it has grown so far.

Each leaf on your basil represents an additional source of food for the plant. In other words, the more leaves it accumulates, the more prepared it is to replace what has been lost.

Once your basil grows its third set of leaves, you can cut it back. The leaves usually taste better when they’re younger. If you wait for your basil to grow more than three sets of leaves on each stem, you will help it become stronger.

When does it become somewhat late to cut back your basil? The answer is when it’s about to bloom or already has.

Revealing flower buds means your basil plant is about to conclude its life cycle. Blooming is all about reproduction and indicates the last stage of life for flowering plants.

basil flowering buds

Moreover, basil leaves become bitter and less flavorful when the plant develops flowers.

That’s why pruning is essential for basil. To enjoy delicious basil for as long as possible, you must trim the plant regularly.

Since basil is a fast-growing plant, you’ll be able to cut it back every two weeks once it is fully established.

How to Prune Basil:

Cutting back basil requires you to learn a few tips beforehand. These tips will keep your plant as healthy as possible and help it grow faster.

When cutting back your basil, remember this: never touch the set of leaves located at the bottom. These are your plant’s last food source and growth production factory. Snipping them off means you’re placing the herb at risk of dying.

The general recommendation for pruning is you shouldn’t cut back more than one-third of the plant. But basil is somewhat of an exception and can be heavily pruned.

Starting from the bottom of the stem and going upward, count one or two sets of leaves. Then cut a few centimeters above them. The set of leaves you don’t touch on top of each stem must have those tiny offshoots.

You may not have time to prune your basil regularly. That’s okay! You can just cut the tops of the plant whenever it begins to flower to prevent it from producing seeds and dying.

You also may find flowering clusters forming on the top of your basil from time to time. Remove the head of each stem and the set of leaves beneath it.

After pruning, your basil plant may look a little bit unappealing. But don’t worry, its beauty will be restored in a few days.

Extra Tips: 

  • Properly cutting back basil requires the use of sharp pruning shears. High-quality scissors don’t scar the plant with several tears. They create very defined cuts.

Don’t use your hands or dull scissors. You might make your basil more susceptible to diseases by creating unwanted wounds.

  • Once you finish pruning your basil, you can use some stem cuttings to propagate new plants.

Choose a cutting around 3″–4″ inches (7.6-10 cm) long. Remove all the leaves at the bottom, and keep only one set of leaves at the top.

Immerse the cutting in a glass of water, and keep it away from direct sunlight. After about two weeks, it will start growing some roots.

  • The best way to support your basil is with different soil amendments immediately after it has been pruned.

I always use an organic fertilizer with my basil plants. That allows me to harvest the largest quantities of leaves for pesto!

  • Remember that pruning basil means you’re harvesting the plant in bulk. This is why you should wait at least two weeks for the plant to restore its stability so that you can cut it back again.
cutting back basil

But you can harvest a few leaves from your basil whenever you want. Harvesting a few leaves isn’t likely to harm the plant.

  • You may be growing basil under unregulated conditions. If so, you must cut it back before the first expected frost or risk losing the whole yield.

Basil is sensitive to frost, and its leaves will turn brown as the temperature drops.

You’re now prepared to take care of your basil’s pruning needs! Enjoy growing this beautiful herb. And don’t forget to submit all your questions and thoughts in the comments below!

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