Basil Pruning Tips: Master & Never Buy Store-Bought Again

Unlock the full potential of your basil plant with the power of pruning. While it might seem counterintuitive, pruning is crucial in encouraging your basil plant to flourish. 

But remember, plants rely on their leaves for photosynthesis, so be careful not to remove too many, especially when the plant is young and vulnerable.

The aim is to cultivate a broad, bushy basil plant rather than a tall, lanky one. So, how do you achieve this? It’s all about which leaves you pluck. With these insightful basil pruning tips, you’ll be well-equipped to do just that.

The Art of Pruning Basil

The secret lies in removing the tops, going down to the second-highest leaves. You can do this by simply pinching and plucking. 

If you prefer using gardening shears, make sure they’re sterilized first to prevent the spread of plant diseases.

Basil Varieties: Sweet Basil vs Genovese Basil

There are over 40 basil cultivars ¹ , but sweet basil and Genovese basil are the most common. Both varieties respond well to the pruning technique mentioned above.

Sweet basil, typically found in grocery stores, has leaves with a sweet, almost anise-like flavor, a vibrant bright green color, and a rounded shape. The delightful aroma released when you ruffle this foliage is a bonus.

On the other hand, Genovese basil has a slightly spicier flavor and smaller, flat, pointed leaves. Both varieties are culinary versatile. Sweet basil is popular for Caprese salads, while Genovese basil is perfect for a fresh pesto batch.

Keeping Your Grocery Store Basil Alive After Pruning

Keeping a basil plant alive after plucking a few leaves can be challenging. However, you can do a few things to help your plant survive for the next round of pesto.

Firstly, consider repotting your basil. Grocery stores package basil plants in small containers for easy transportation, but a mature herb needs more growing space.

When you remove the basil plant from its pot, you’ll likely notice roots wrapping around the soil perimeter. This rootbound condition can stunt plant growth, so increasing the basil pot size incrementally by 2-3 inches in diameter is advisable.

Some gardeners suggest dividing the basil into several separate plants, especially for larger, more established basils. 

Once you’ve repotted, ensure your basil gets lots of full-sun and not too much water, as basil is a Mediterranean herb and prefers hot, dry conditions.

Additional Basil Pruning Tips

Related Article: 4 Best Herbs to Grow in the Kitchen + Storing & Drying

Here are some additional tips for pruning basil:

  • Pruning basil is a beneficial practice that stimulates growth and produces bushier plants. To maintain the plant’s optimal condition and prevent the leaves from developing a bitter taste, it’s crucial to prune the basil before it starts to flower. This also helps to prevent the plant from becoming woody.
  • When it comes to pruning basil, it’s essential to use a sharp tool, such as pruning shears or scissors. This ensures a clean cut, crucial for the plant’s health. 
  • Start pruning or pinching when the seedlings develop their first six true leaves. At this stage, cut just above the second set of leaves.
  • Regular pruning is vital to a lush, leafy basil plant. Aim to prune each time a branch develops 6-8 leaves. This frequent pruning encourages the plant to become bushier.
  • As soon as you notice flowers forming on the basil plant, pinch them off. This action redirects the plant’s energy back to foliage growth, promoting leaf development.
  • If your basil plant is growing more vertically, encourage wider growth by pinching leaves from the top.
  • Don’t discard the pinched leaves. They can be used immediately or dried later, ensuring no plant part is wasted.

Pruning Basil Might Be the Best Thing

Pruning is a simple but effective technique to ensure your basil plant grows lush and leafy. Following these basil pruning tips will give you a beautiful plant and a plentiful supply of fresh basil for your culinary adventures. 

Whether you’re making a Caprese salad with sweet basil or a fresh pesto batch with Genovese basil, your dishes will be elevated by the fresh, homegrown herb. 

So, don’t shy away from pruning your basil plant. It might just be the best thing you do for it!

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.