How to Prune Basil Without Damaging It

It’s very easy to kill basil by pulling it the wrong way. If you’re reading this, you have probably gone through at least a few basil plants. You thought you were just taking off some leaves for that nice bowl of pesto pasta you had in mind. It turns out that doing so shortened the life of your plant.

To prune basil without damaging it, you need to cut in precisely the right spot. You also need to know when to cut your plant. Read on for details!

Wait Until Your Basil Plant Is At Least 6 Inches Tall

Basil Plant Is At Least 6 Inches Tall

This is non-negotiable. If you cut a plant shorter than 6 inches, you are probably going to shorten its life. It’s not going to produce a lot of leaves over its lifetime. Wait until the plant is half a foot long. No matter how hungry you are! 🙂

Cut the Central Stem

Make sure that you don’t cut the leaves or some random branches. Instead, you’re going to be cutting the central stem of the basil plant.

This stem is very easy to spot. It is the main stem of the plant. All the branches grow from it. It’s the exact middle part of the plant and it is what connects the rest of the plant to its roots.

Find the Central Stem

Cut your basil from its central stem’s fifth leaf set. This is the most important part of this guide. You have to know which part of the central stem to cut.

Starting from the top of the plant, look for leaf sets. These are two leaves or two branches sticking out of the central stem. They appear in pairs.

So, starting from the top, count to five. Once you have identified or located the fifth leaf set, you would know where to cut.

Find the location about 0.5 inches from the fifth leaf set. This is where you will be cutting your basil plant.

Do not cut in a straight line. Angle your pruning shear or gardening scissors so that you cut at an angle.

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Also, make sure that your cut is above the fifth basil leaf set. Don’t cut right at the same height or level as these leaves. There has to be enough leaves left on the plant so it can continue to produce branches and leaves that you can then harvest later on.

Handle Your Basil with Care

Handle Your Basil with Care

Like any other plant, your basil would still need some leaves to thrive. Make sure there are at least two sets near the bottom left untouched.  These would be essential in absorbing sunlight and producing nutrients. They also help the central stem develop into a sturdy foundation.

Basil is very delicate and gets damaged easily, especially when it’s still young. To avoid injuring the plant, never break the central stem with your fingers. Instead, use a good pair of gardening shears or scissors when you need to cut it. 

Frequent Asked Questions (FAQ)

Should You Allow Basil Flowers to Form?

No! As soon as you start seeing the buds for basil flowers, cut them off. This is very important because if you let the buds appear and they produce flowers, your basil plant will never be the same. It’s going to be tougher to achieve healthy leaves.

Also, the taste produced by the basil leaves is not going to be the same. Depending on how long you let the flowers bloom, this may drastically reduce the basil flavoring and scent that you expect from your basil leaves.

Remember, you are growing basil primarily for its leaves. You want them to be as fragrant and as flavorful as possible.

Flower blossoms as well as flower buds take away nutrients from the leaves and can drastically change the nutrient flow of your plant. As soon as these blossoms appear and you let flowers grow uninterrupted, even if you nip them and you continue to prune these, the flavor of that basil plant may have been changed for good. So, don’t let the problem get out of hand.

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How Often Should You Prune Your Basil Leaves?

If you follow the directions above, your basil plant should produce a lot of leaves regularly. It’s important to wait for the stem to recover and then prune every one to two weeks.

The frequency of your pruning really depends on how fast your plant grows. If your basil plant is located in a sunny area and it has a lot of the right nutrients it needs for rapid growth, you probably would need to prune more frequently.

You might think that the cutting of its central stem will reduce its productivity. Think again! This is how basil is normally managed.

You may have cut off a lot of its branches for your next bowl of pasta or for pizza toppings, but don’t worry. When managed correctly, basil plants actually grow back very quickly. In fact, if you’re not careful, it might grow so fast that it starts producing flower buds.

It’s really important to make sure that you prevent basil flowers from appearing.

How Do You Protect Your Basil Plant’s Moisture Levels?

It’s important to note that basil tends to dry out very quickly. Normally, when it’s getting the right amount of water, its leaves are flush and fully opened. But when it’s dehydrated, the leaves look dried up.

To prevent this from happening, make sure that you water the plant’s base at least two times a week (or less if you choose the Kratky method). Also, make sure you put a thick enough mulch in the form of ground-up plant material or special mulch fibers that you get from your local gardening store.

However, you do it, make sure that the base of the plant is covered so the roots don’t dry out too quickly. This is especially crucial indoors.

How Do You Protect Your Basil Plant’s Moisture Levels

Since you’re gardening in a controlled environment, you may be thinking that your plant is moist enough. Don’t be so sure. Be on the lookout for the condition of the leaves and make sure that they don’t look wilted.