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How to Prune Basil for Larger Yields

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Want to grow a bushier plant full of basil this summer? I’ve got you covered with an easy garden task! 

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.

And if you’re worried that basil is difficult to grow, there’s no need to fear. Whether it’s your first time growing basil seedlings or you’re an old hand, you can bushy plants this growing season with just a few pruning snips. 

Why Prune Basil?

My basil plants haven’t always been abundant growers. I share in Basil: From Seed to Table that after the first few years of tall, skinny basil plants, I finally realized there must be something I’m missing. 

And despite my watering and hovering, no changes other than height were happening. Finally, when thinking about pruning as a help for other summer growers (like tomatoes), I caught on to the idea of pruning basil. And wow! What a difference a little pruning can make! 

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Just a few snips per plant makes 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. Pruning is beneficial for all types of plants, and if you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you’ll see more articles on how to prune other herbs and vegetables in the garden. It’s all about distributing the plant’s energy where you want it to go. The same is true for many plants in the garden, including tomatoes.

​Not only is it a good idea to prune or trim basil for a better basil harvest, but this will also keep flower buds from appearing on your plant as early. When a basil plant begins producing flowers, it’s trying to produce seed and this can affect the flavor of your basil leaves.

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 this can be used on any type of basil you may be growing.

How to Prune Basil Easily

Whether in a container or in your actual garden, basil can produce an amazing harvest with just one plant. And not only do these fantastic plants provide you with fresh basil leaves, but at the end of the season, when your plant produces tiny white basil flowers, you’ll be providing the pollinators in your garden with an abundant food source, plus seeds for next year’s plants.

To prune your basil at home, you’ll just need a good pair of clean pruning shears or clean hands, and to follow these simple steps. The best time to prune is in the mornings or evenings, but avoid the heat of the day sun, since your plant may be a little stressed at this point in the day. 

Need more help? See the full video at the bottom of the page!

  1. For best results, you’d start pruning when your basil plant is still pretty small, with only one or two stems (6-8 leaves) off of the main stem. If you’ve waited a bit longer, then I would suggest not pruning all the way down near the base of the plant, but rather on a higher stem. First, find a stem that has sets of true leaves on each side and leaves growing in “the middle.”
basil diagram
  1. With a good set of pruning shears (or your thumb nail if you’re in a pinch), cut the middle stem close to its base. What you’re doing here is encouraging the plant to focus on that lower set of leaves by getting rid of what was in the middle. This is the best way to encourage the new growth that will result in new branches and new sets of leaves and an overall healthier plant. 
cutting basil
  1. Take the basil that you’ve pruned off for a nice Caprese salad or a bright pop to the top of your next pasta meal. (Find my Caprese Pasta Salad Recipe here!) If the stem portion you’ve cut off is long enough and it’s a clean cut, you can also put it in a small container with water and let it root. Then you’ll have more basil plants!  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.
basil cut
  1. You can repeat this pruning process with several basil 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. On average, I only prune my basil plants two or three times during the season, and as you’ll see in my video below, my basil plants get pretty large. There’s plenty of basil for me and my friends and neighbors!

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. You can also had rich compost to the soil around your plant to encourage growth as well.

With our basil cuttings, we’ve had several caprese salads, and my food processor is begging me to make some pesto, and of course, basil is easy to dry and use later.

Tips for Caring for your Basil Plant after Pruning

In general, bushy basil plants are easy to care for, and here are some quick tips to make sure you have healthy basil plants all summer long:

  1. Sunlight: Basil thrives in full sunlight, so make sure your outdoor basil plants receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.
  2. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water your basil plants deeply whenever the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
  3. Fertilizing: (Optional, since healthy, rich soil will be plenty to feed your plant.) Apply a balanced fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season to provide essential nutrients for healthy growth. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive leaf growth at the expense of flavor.
  4. Harvesting: Regularly pinch off the top leaves of your basil plant to encourage bushier growth and prevent it from flowering too soon as stated above, but harvesting basil in general with sharp scissors or pruners is what your basil plant is there for. Harvest the biggest leaves first, so the plant can focus on growing those new tiny leaves.
how to prune basil

Need more help knowing the right way to care for basil? See my other basil articles:

Other basil and herb articles

I’d love to know your favorite uses for fresh basil, and if you’ve found pruning helpful for you as well. Happy Gardening!                                                                                                                                         

Yield: 1 plant

How to Prune Basil for Larger Yields

basil leaves up close on blue background

Learn how easy it is to prune basil plants for bushier plants and a larger yield! This can be done in just a few quick snips.

Active Time 2 minutes
Total Time 2 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost Free

Materials

Tools

  • Pruning Shears

Instructions

    1. For best results, you'd start pruning when your basil plant is still pretty small, with only one or two stems (6-8 leaves) off of the main stem. If you've waited a bit longer, then I would suggest not pruning all the way down near the base of the plant, but rather on a higher stem. First, find a stem that has sets of true leaves on each side and leaves growing in "the middle."
    2. With a good set of pruning shears (or your thumb nail if you're in a pinch), cut the middle stem close to its base. What you're doing here is encouraging the plant to focus on that lower set of leaves by getting rid of what was in the middle. This is the best way to encourage the new growth that will result in new branches and new sets of leaves and an overall healthier plant. 
    3. Take the basil that you've pruned off for a nice Caprese salad or a bright pop to the top of your next pasta meal. (Find my Caprese Pasta Salad Recipe here!) If the stem portion you've cut off is long enough and it's a clean cut, you can also put it in a small container with water and let it root. Then you'll have more basil plants!  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.
    4. You can repeat this pruning process with several basil 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. On average, I only prune my basil plants two or three times during the season, and as you'll see in my video below, my basil plants get pretty large. There's plenty of basil for me and my friends and neighbors!

Marlena

Friday 12th of August 2022

Tomato basil soup!!

Courtney

Monday 15th of August 2022

Yes! I love tomato basil soup!

Sharyn Mcinerney

Wednesday 20th of July 2022

Fresh basil in a sandwich with tomato and cheese

Phyllis Jones

Thursday 9th of June 2022

Basil is our family's favorite herbs. Our teens drop it in fresh pasta, evoo, and Parmesan, also into the butter for toast with any pasta dish. Thanks for the info!

Courtney

Friday 10th of June 2022

You are very welcome!

Gail Marie Lundstrom

Thursday 7th of April 2022

A lot of great ideas here ~ love them! At the end of fall (I live in Iowa) I take my basil leaves, and fill a ice cube tray, then pour olive oil over the leaves. Freeze, then pop out cubes into a freezer safe container to store for use all winter.

Courtney

Friday 8th of April 2022

That's a great idea! Thank you for sharing!

Moksha Lifestyle

Friday 31st of July 2020

Awesome ideas...keep it up

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