Basil Information and pruning

three basil plants
“Cinnamon”, “Purple Opal” and “Container” Basil Varieties

No matter what you do, your basil plant will still grow (as long as you continue to water it of course…and don’t cut It all the way down to the ground …definitely don’t do that! : )


I’m New: Grow Bag Information

Hello new grow bag owner! Here’s some quick information on your plant:


Harvesting leaves from your plant (s) will encourage new leaves to grow. I only have one rule I try to follow when growing basil (This rule also applies to other primarily vegetative plants like lettuce):

Don’t let the plant flower

Basil plant going to seed
Plant going to seed

Flowering Stage: If and when this stage is reached by the plant, the vegetative stage is over. Plants, like humans, aren’t able to go backwards in different stages of life. It kind of reminds me of the fountain of youth. Anyways, I digress. The plant will then try to focus its efforts to reproducing before our nasty winter shows up here in Minnesota by flowering, developing seeds through a process called double fertilization (I could get really nerdy here, but I’ll save it for another time) and then die off thereby completing the circle of basil life.

If the plant does produce flowers though, I personally don’t think it changes the taste of the leaves much. Others may say differently, but it’s really personal taste at this point. It’s better to get the plant to continue producing leaves, rather than produce flowers in the first place. Ultimately, the plant is probably going to get to its flower stage at some point because its biological clock is ticking. We’re just helping prolong the tasty leaf stage.

Now for the fun part

If you’re looking at your plant while reading this, you can already see how the plant is naturally growing. It most likely has 1 or 2 main stems and has pairs of leaves going up the main stem (s). If it’s at the same stage as the photos show here, you probably see how the leaves on the side are fairly close to the main stem with tiny baby leaves in the middle. The plant looks like this because of a term called apical dominance. It’s the same reason you see trees growing this way. The further the main stem grows up, the further the lower stems can stretch out. We’re going to short-circuit this process by chopping off the top of the plant! Once this is done, the rest of the plant can start growing outwards away from the main stem.

Ruler in photo showing a basil plant over 1 foot
Apical Dominance prevents shoots close to the apical meristem from extending

In these photos, I use two different methods for harvesting: pruners and pinching. I’m a stickler for cleanliness around plants. Once you make any cuts to the plant, you place the plant in a temporary vulnerable situation until it can heal its wounds. It’s no different than cutting your finger and getting an infection afterwards. Wash your hands and/or clean your pruners before you start. I use disinfectant wipes on my pruners.   

sanitizing hand pruners before cutting
Sanitizing hand pruners

In these photos, you can see how I make a cut right above the next set of little leaves in the crotch between the vertical stem and the leaves. These leaves are the beginning of the axial shoots that will now grow out since I removed the top of the plant (getting rid of the apical dominance). If at this point you’re saying, wait, what will take place of the apical dominance? Ah, great question. I’ll update this post later so you can see what indeed happens with the same plants in the photo.

showing where cut will be made
Locating a section of the main stem with axial shoots
Snipping where the main vertical stem and axial shoots meet
Pinch pruning Purple Opal
Pinch pruning “Purple Opal”

I’m taking off only a couple inches of growth at the top of the plant. You can take off more if you’d like, but I always recommend not removing more than one third of the plant at any time. This helps reduce stress and allows enough leave surface area to keep the plant photosynthesizing at a high rate.

Once your plant starts to grow outwards, use the same techniques to cut back the side shoots. That’s about all there is to it! Keep watering your plants and enjoy the natural fragrance!

After Pruning

Here are a few photos of the same plants just 6 days after I trimmed them!

"Cinnamon" and "Purple Opal" 6 days after pruning
“Cinnamon” and “Purple Opal” 6 days after pruning
Cinnamon variety grew nearly 4" in 6 days
This “Cinnamon” variety grew nearly 4″ in 6 days!
"Purple Opal" 6 days after pruning
“Purple Opal” 6 days after pruning

Final thoughts

Basil isn’t too fussy. As you can see, it grows extremely quickly once the plant has multiple side shoots with leaves. Had I let this plant go another week of two, it most likely would have gone to seed. That should give you an idea on when you can start to harvest your plant. You certainly don’t have to wait as long as I did with these plants. Again, I like to use my 1/3 rule of not cutting the plant back more than 1/3 or its height at any time. It grows back quickly!!!