When to Prune Basil? Basil Pruning Guide

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When to Prune Basil

Growing basil is not a complicated process as long as you know when to water it, which temperatures work best for its growth, and when it needs to be taken indoors to avoid serious damage problems. Just as importantly, you need to know when to prune your basil to keep it as healthy as possible. Pruning keeps it from getting out of control and provides other benefits as well. Here’s what you need to know about pruning basil.

When Should Basil Be Pruned?

pruning basil in a planter

Basil pruning schedules typically vary based on the growing speed of your plant. Most basil will need to be pruned every 2-4 weeks or so. Fast-growing basil (which may occur in relatively warm environments) may need pruning every two weeks. Slower-growing basil (typically common in more excellent areas) may need 3-4 weeks between pruning. Too-frequent pruning may damage the plant and cause serious issues.

Typically, you need to pay attention to whether the basil is starting to show any signs of flowering throughout its growths. Flowering often occurs if you let it go for too long between pruning and is a problem for reasons we’ll discuss in more depth in a later section. Just know that you should probably prune your basil to just above the bottom two sets of leaves when you see signs of flowering.

Also, understand that your pruning schedule may vary for each of your plants. Some plants may simply be healthier and grow faster, even though they come from the same sets of seeds. Therefore, it is important not to assume a specific pruning schedule but to prune when needed. Inspect your plants two weeks after your last pruning and decide if you can wait or if it is time to prune.

The moment you start noticing signs of flowering or flowers throughout its stems, get out your sheers and get ready to cut. But how exactly do you prune basil? This process is pretty simple and shouldn’t be too hard for most people to handle. Let’s break down this process in a step-by-step approach to give you a better understanding of when it’s time to prepare and prune your basil.

How Do I Prune Basil? Step By Step

pruning basil with shears

If you’re interested in pruning your basil, it is essential to follow the steps below to get the best results. While pruning itself doesn’t vary much between the various plant types, you do need to know the most appropriate times and spots to prune your basil. If you don’t, you could end up damaging it and causing complications. The following steps should help you out in this process:

  • Inspect Where You Want to Prune – Look throughout the branches of your basil to spot where you may need to prune. Typically, you’re looking for any branch where tiny leaves are forming. These leaves show signs of flowering, and pruning them now helps keep your basil healthy.
  • Spot the Best Pruning Location – You need to prune the branch just above the newly forming leaves without cutting or disturbing the leaves themselves. A good set of pruning sheers should benefit you in this situation. As mentioned above, cut just above the bottom two sets of new leaves.
  • Remove the Pruned Branch – After cutting smoothly through the branch, carefully remove it and get it out of the way of your pruning process. Typically, you want to keep this area clean to avoid complications and minimize any risk of branches getting in the way of your cutting.
  • Repeat Throughout Your Plant – Don’t stop at just the first branch that you prune. Go throughout the rest of your basil and identify places where it needs to be pruned. Carefully cut in straight lines through each plant to get the best results. You don’t want jagged or uneven cuts.

Understand that pruning does cause a bit of a shock to your plant’s system. You’re basically cutting off parts of its body, and it may react to these changes. Try to minimize how much you remove from your plant to avoid shocking it too much. Thankfully, your basil is much hardier than a person would be if you cut off parts of their body. That said, plants need recovery time, so treat them with respect.

You’ll find the video below really helpful:

When to Prune Basil for the First Time

The first pruning for your basil will vary depending on its growing speed and size. Pay attention to the seedling growing from the initial plant and measure it as it grows. When it gets to about six to eight inches tall, it should have 3-4 sets of leaves along its side. Some people will pinch the main stem a little at this point to remove one-third of the plant to help it produce a double-stemmed basil plant.

This very early trimming must be done very carefully and may vary depending on your needs. For example, if you want a single-stem basil growth, you don’t need to trim at this point. Instead, you can wait until you start seeing new leaves growing from the stems along your branches. Trim these according to the suggestions mentioned above to help stimulate growth and strength.

Remember: trimming is not a process that hurts the plant or causes it to stop growing. Beyond the initial shock of the cut, your plant will become stronger after trimming because it will regrow new stems and branches that will provide extra strength. You can also dictate the overall growth and direction of your basil plant by pruning in this streamlined and simple way.

Once you get good at trimming and pruning your basil plants, you can get rather amazing results. For example, a very popular (over five million views) YouTube video claimed that you could prune your basil so that it would grow forever. The idea here is to cut at the specific point where the basil cells are dividing and to produce a growth that will continue to expand.

How Do You Prune Basil So That It Grows Forever?

In the aforementioned YouTube video, the creator states that pruning the basil plant at the apical meristem could potentially help it to grow almost forever. The apical meristem is the region on a plant where these cells are actively dividing and expanding to produce new growths throughout your plant. They are the stem cells of the plant, which is a cellular and not a plant term.

Stem cells are cells that have yet to develop into specific cell types and serve as the base for all of the cells in your body. Research has found that they can be adapted and changed into a shocking variety of cell types and can be very beneficial for things like growing plants. The idea here is to cut off this part of the plant to create a new section or growing tip for your basil.

When you perform this pruning step, your basil plant could start growing in two separate directions instead of straight out to produce a unique level of growing. In many ways, this approach will produce a bushier look that will continue to grow and expand your basil. When used properly, it is possible to greatly expand your basil, though nothing will make a basil plant live forever, of course.

How Do I Make My Basil Plant Bushier?

bushy basil plant

You can use the technique above to continue producing a bushy and appealing basil plant. However, you can also use the steps below to produce a fairly bushy basil plant. Start by cutting basil stems about one-quarter inch above their leaf sets or nodes. Start when the plants are quite small and prune them to leave at least 3-5 sets of leaves on each stem. When you prune in this way, a few things happen.

First, the basil plant will branch off into more stems that will increase the bushiness of your plant. If you start early, you can continue to expand the plant and get a surprisingly thick look. Typically, you need to prune or harvest your basil in this way at least every 2-3 weeks to stop it from flowering and to produce a very bushy and appealing basil plant growth.

How Do You Cut Basil So It Keeps Growing?

You can follow the steps mentioned above to keep your basil growing. In essence, you must prune to prevent flowering on your basil, or else it will end up stopping its growth and become less appetizing. When cutting, try to remove individual stems just above the intersection where the side shoots originate. This step helps to push your basil to further growth and keeps it strong and healthy.

What Happens If You Don’t Prune Basil?

purple basil flowers

If you don’t want to prune basil, you aren’t necessarily causing it any damage. All you’re doing is letting it flower out and grow according to its nature. Many people like to let basil grow in this way because their flowers are very appealing to beneficial creatures. For example, many bees (especially bumblebees) love basil flowers, as do hummingbirds. Mature basil also naturally repels unwanted insects due to its scent.

However, unpruned basil will become too bitter to harvest for food. That’s because mature basil leaves, i.e., leaves that form after flowering, become too bitter and will stay that way for the rest of the plant’s life. Basil will also grow up and not out if you don’t trim it, which can result in hard-to-manage plant growths. So, while nothing bad necessarily happens to the plant itself, you may find your basil unusable for your needs if you don’t prune it.