Pruning Basil: When to Start Pruning & How to NOT Kill the Plant

By: Chenell - Lead Writer and Gardening Advocate

Have you noticed that other people’s basil plants end up super bushy and they have tons more leaves to harvest than you do?

It’s not that you aren’t watering them properly or using the wrong seed, it all comes down to how you prune your plants.

When pruned correctly, basil will grow more quickly and produce more leaves for you. If you don’t prune regularly, your plants may become stagnant and start to put off basil flowers. This article will teach you how to prune basil so that it grows strong and healthy!

Pruning vs Harvesting Basil Plants

Pruning is the act of cutting off or removing parts of a plant that are dead, diseased, damaged, or unproductive. But with certain plants, like basil, pruning is also a method of harvesting your leaves.

When you are pruning, you are cutting off part of the basil plant to help stimulate growth and prevent flowering.

bushy basil plant

Harvesting is when you are cutting off leaves to use at the time. If you want to make pesto and need a bunch of basil, you can go harvest that from the plant. While you’re not purposefully doing this to stimulate growth, you are getting that added benefit as well.

Reasons to Prune Basil – Is It Necessary?

You don’t need to prune your basil, but if you want to get bushy basil plants that have good growth and are healthy for a long time, trimming basil is a great way to do that. Here are a few reasons to regularly prune your basil seedlings.

1. A Better Basil Harvest

A basil plant that is pruned regularly will generally have more vigor than those that aren’t pruned and live longer in general. So again, you don’t need to prune it, but it will help you get a more bountiful harvest and increase the life of the plant.

2. Prevent Flower Buds & Lengthen Life

Without pruning or harvesting your plant regularly, it will begin to flower. When basil flowers, it produces green buds first, and then tiny white flowers begin to appear. These basil flower buds can also be pink or lilac if you’re growing other types of basil.

When a basil plant starts to produce flowers, it means that the plant is beginning to die and it will put all its energy into those flowers instead of foliage growth and creating new leaves for you.

As pruning allows your basil to grow and produce more leaves, pruning prevents flowering from occurring.

3. To Harvest Your Basil Leaves

While basil is a great companion plant, most of the time we grow basil seedlings to get leaves we can eat, add to dishes, or even create basil olive oil with.

Pruning your basil plant has the added benefit of giving you fresh basil leaves to use in the kitchen.

When to Prune Your Basil for the First Time

Pruning basil when it’s fairly young will give it the most benefits (especially if you prune it properly).

A good rule of thumb is to first prune the basil when your plant gets about 6 inches tall when your plant has 3-4 branches of leaves coming off of the main stem.

After that, you can prune your plant every few weeks to encourage growth.

How to Prune Basil Plants

When learning how to trim a basil plant, you only really need some garden shears or scissors. Breaking the stems off with your hands could do more damage than good, as they generally won’t come off with a clean break.

You want to cut the main stem when it produces two shoots out of the sides. This will redirect the energy of the plant into growing those two stems, instead of just one main one. If you let it go without pruning, the basil will get taller, but not wider, and won’t be as bushy.

This pruning will cause new growth to come out from the cutting point for a fuller plant and larger leaves. You can continue to make the cut off the new “main stem” to give you big bushy plants.

Locate the central stem of the plant, and find the highest point. Then look down and locate the first place the stem splits off into two new branches. You want to cut the main stem above that split, which will redirect the plant’s energy into growing two new stems instead of that main one.

Tips for Pruning Basil

1. Don’t prune all of the leaves off at once. It’s best to trim basil in small doses, so only prune a few stems at a time. This will give your plant the best opportunity to create new leaves and grow back faster

2. Pruning doesn’t have to be hard! There are many easy ways to prune herbs that don’t require any equipment whatsoever

3. Use sharp scissors instead of knives or clippers. Basil is resilient – it’ll grow back just fine from some snipping with sharp shears

4. Cut with an upward motion rather than slicing or pushing straight down. When you cut the herb upwards, you’re cutting above its vascular system.

5. Never take more than 1/3rd of the plant at a time. Cutting off too many leaves can cause your plant to go into shock and it will take longer to grow new leaves.

If you prune your herb at an angle, it won’t bleed and cause as much of a mess, making it easier to clean up when pruning. This is especially important if you prune your herbs indoors

Gently spread apart the leaves on each branch so your pruning shears don’t get stuck and break off any other

When pruning your basil, make sure that you aren’t pruning too aggressively; otherwise, your plants will not grow back as quickly, if at all.

How to Preserve Basil Leaves

One of the benefits of growing basil is adding fresh leaves to your dishes. But if you end up with too many leaves, how do you store basil?

There are a few ways you can do this.

1. Freeze Basil

You can freeze your basil leaves for later use. Keep in mind, you can’t exactly “thaw” your basil and expect it to be the same consistency when it comes out of the freezer.

Frozen basil is great to use when adding to sauces and sauteed dishes.

2. Dry Basil Leaves

You can dry or dehydrate basil to preserve your leaves as well.

Hang them by the stems or tie them into bundles and hang those bundles to dry out. When they are crunchy and have no moisture left, you can then transfer them into airtight containers for storage. While leaving the leaves whole will help preserve them longer, you can crunch them down into smaller pieces to preserve space.



Hi - I'm Chenell! I lived in the city for almost a decade, but after moving to the suburbs in 2020, I decided the logical millennial thing to do was to learn how to grow my own avocado toast. That's what this site is all about. 🥑

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2 thoughts on “Pruning Basil: When to Start Pruning & How to NOT Kill the Plant”

    • Yes, you can still prune it. However, when flowers arrive the basil leaves usually get much more bitter. I’ve found they no longer taste like “basil” to me and have a very, very strong anise flavor. You can definitely pick the flowers off and keep growing it, but try a leaf or two and see if you’re still digging the flavor. If not, it might be time to let it go to seed and start over.


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