Garden Know-How: Pruning Basil

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
What I like about gardening is that there's always something new to learn and master.When one thinks of gardening, well, it just doesn't seem that complicated, does it? You take your seed, you plant it, water it, feed it, and eventually, harvest it. Easy, peasy, right?

But the thing is, if you really want to garden well and have the most abundant harvest possible, there are all sorts of secrets and tricks to the trade you need to know.

For instance . . . did you that you should prune your basil?

Yeah, me either.

A helpful little pin on Pinterest this spring alerted me to the fact that I should be pruning my basil plants to boost productivity. I'd learned last year that you should be pinching the plant's buds, because if the plant's allowed to flower the leaves can go bitter, but I never dreamed that the best thing I could be doing for the plants was to mow them down on a monthly basis. I mean, just take the kitchen shears to the strong, healthy plant I nurtured out a mere seed only months before? My maternal instincts (yes, I do have them) squealed with alarm at the very thought of it.

So I did some reading (thanks Fine Gardening) and it turned out to be true. To get the most out of your basil plants you should be snipping the stems off at the base (right above where there are two new sets of leaves on either side of the stem) before the plants starts to flower. It actually makes the plant grow back bushier.

Here's my basil plants after their second haircut of the season:

Not too shabby, eh? It's true, after each pruning, the plants come back thicker than ever because those little sets of leaves you pruned down to are given a chance to grow big and strong.

It turns out that each basil plant should produce between 15-20 cups of leaves. Take into account the fact that I have three Genovese basil plants and two Thai basil plants (that's cilantro in the middle of the front row) and holy moly that's a lot of pesto.I've already made two batches of pesto and frozen more than enough basil to top our pizzas for the entire winter and it's only August 1st!

I realize this entire post reads a little bit like an over-enthusiastic review of some "As seen on TV" ad, but really, isn't gardening wonderful?

They say, "If you would be happy all your life, plant a garden." But let us also remember, "If you would have basil all summer long, for the love of goodness, prune it!"



  1. my boyfriend is OBSESSED with pruning our basil. he managed to get one plant to look like a modest-sized shrub last year, before we lost the whole thing to snails. damn snails.

  2. haha- if I had my own basil plant there would be nothing left to prune, I'd be so happily eating it all and making pounds of pesto :)

  3. This should totally be a series on your blog. You do this better than anyone I know!

  4. I planted herbs for the first time this year and am wondering why I never have before now. I don't have garden space, so my oregano and basil are in pots. Anyway, I'm having problems with something chewing my basil. Any suggestions on what or how to handle this issue?

    Second, how about sharing that pesto recipe. And how do you freeze basil? I've just been drying mine and didn't know it could be frozen.


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