Have you ever bought a beautiful little basil seedling from your local nursery, only to have it quickly turn scraggly, tall, woody, and sparse?
For many years we struggled with the same issue.
We’d try time and time again to grow basil, excited to add it to our soups, salads, and Italian dishes, only to have it fail over and over again.
It wasn’t until I received one simple tip from a friend that I was suddenly able to grow big, bushy, beautiful basil plants.
It turns out, the way you prune the basil has everything to do with your success in growing it.
Why it matters how you prune basil
You may think, it’s just a plant, why does it matter how I pick off leaves?
When it comes to pruning basil (or many other plants for that matter), the leaves you choose to remove matter for the health of the plant and for your continued enjoyment of fresh basil all season long.
For the plant to remain healthy, grow vigorously, and provide you with plenty of basil this season, it’s important to learn how to prune it correctly.
The wrong way to prune basil
When learning how to correctly prune basil, it’s important to first know the wrong way to go about pruning.
Most people are tempted to pick off the biggest leaves of the plant, those growing on the bottom branches.
The biggest leaves on the bottom branches are the powerhouses of the whole plant. Those big leaves take in the most sunlight and make sure the basil plant is getting adequate nutrients. Pruning them off significantly hurts the plant.
Not only does removing those bottom leaves hurt the plant, it doesn’t help the plant create new leaves and branches.
The correct way to prune basil
Now that you know the wrong way to prune basil, let’s go over the correct way to pick off basil leaves.
The leaves that you should remove are those growing on the top of the plant.
Yes, they’re smaller and won’t make nearly as much Caprese salad as those big leaves on the bottom, but there’s a good reason to pick off the leaves from the top of the plant.
Every time you prune the leaves from the top of the basil plant, it allows the plant to create two new branches from the spot that you picked.
Those two new branches will create new sets of leaves, and when you prune them again, they’ll create two new branches again.
Pruning this way allows the plant to grow outward instead of only upward. It will grow exponentially bigger every time you prune the plant.
Alternatively, if you were pruning the plant the wrong way, it would continue to grow leaves from the one central branch, but would eventually turn woody, skimpy, sparse, and ultimately die.
3 Steps to Prune Basil Correctly
Identify the spot on the branch where you can clearly see new tiny leaves forming.
Cut the branch just above those tiny leaves, making sure not to disturb the leaves themselves. Use some herb pruning shears to ensure a clean cut.
Repeat this process with all branches that have tiny leaves growing.
In a few weeks you’ll see that those tiny leaves turned into new branches, and you can again prune the new branches just above new sets of leaves so those will branch out again.
And there you have it, the secret to growing big bushy basil plants!
Make sure you learn how to dry and preserve your harvested herbs so that nothing goes to waste. You can learn two of the easiest methods for drying herbs at home in our article here.
And if you’d rather learn how to freeze your huge basil harvest, take a look as Tracey tests four of the most popular basil freezing methods and reveals the only way that really works.
- Herb Pruning Shears
- Identify the spot on the branch where you can clearly see new tiny basil leaves forming.
- Cut the branch just above those tiny leaves, making sure not to disturb the leaves themselves.
- Repeat this process with all branches that have tiny leaves growing.
In a few weeks you’ll see that those tiny leaves turned into new branches, and you can again prune the new branches just above new sets of leaves so those will branch out again
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