What could possibly come close to the smell of basil in the summer? Just rubbing a leaf and holding it to your nose can give you daydreams of pasta (or licorice… depending on the variety of your basil). Basil reigns as my favorite herb to have in the garden because it’s super easy to grow, and it usually seeds, so I have volunteers popping up the next spring (win!). But my basil plants haven’t always been abundant growers. In fact after the first few years of tall, skinny basil plants, I finally caught on to the idea of pruning for fuller plants. And wow! What a difference a little pruning can make! Just a few snips per plant can make the difference between one batch of pesto and enough pesto to share with the neighbors. Trust me; your neighbors want you to prune your basil plants.
So how do you go from paltry to robust with your basil plants? Even if your thumb is closer to black than green, It’s really quite simple! And I’m going to show you how:
- Ideally, you’d start pruning when your basil plant is still pretty small, with only one or two stems off of the main plant. If you’ve waited a bit longer, then I would suggest not pruning all the way down near the base, but rather on a higher stem. First, find a stem that has a leaf on each side and leaves growing in “the middle.”
- With a good set of pruning shears (or your thumb nail if you’re in a pinch), cut the middle growth close to its base.
- Use the basil that you’ve pruned off for a nice caprese salad or a bright pop to the top of your next pasta meal. In the meantime, those two leaves you left behind will grow and flourish. You can see below one of the stems I pruned about a month ago. Both of those side leaves are now growing leaves of their own, and your harvest has almost doubled simply because you pruned with one tiny snip.
- You can repeat this pruning process with several stems, but don’t go crazy, especially if your basil plant is a little larger. You don’t want to shock the plant, so start with pruning two stems, and then in a week or two prune a bit more if needed.
Our tiny basil plant that we bought at our local plant sale has now blossomed into a full and productive plant, and this is really with only one pruning so far. We’ve had several caprese salads, and my food processor is begging me to make some pesto.
I’d love to know your favorite uses for fresh basil, and if you’ve found pruning helpful for you as well. Happy Gardening!
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