How to Prune/Trim Basil for a Better Harvest (and how to store the all the extra)

Basil is a plant that benefits greatly from regular pruning and trimming. I have laid out some of the best ways to prune your basil and keep it growing further into the season. When trimmed properly you can obtain a large batch of basil with every harvest.


Misted Basil Leaves

No matter what type of Basil you are growing, Lemon Basil, Holy Basil, or Genovese Basil, all types benefit from regular pruning and trimming. Obtaining a large bushy basil plant is as simple as heading out with your garden scissors (fingers) and pinching off around a 1/3 of the herb. This is covered in greater detail below.

How soon should I trim them?

If you started your plants from seed, once the plants are around 4″-6″ (~10 cm -15cm) tall. The spot to trim it back to will depend on the plant sitting in front of you, a good guide would be to remove around 1/3 of the top stem or just above a good set of leaves. This is important for this stage of the plants growth as it will promote two larger branches to develop by the height of the growing season. You will be swimming in a sea of basil if this is done properly.

What if I bought my basil from the store and it’s already bigger?

With a larger basil plant you can still trim it back to a good set of leaves. By buying a larger plant you are presented with another option, you could propagate more basil. If you have a healthy section of stem with some leaves on it you can place that trimming into a glass of water and watch new roots grow. I recommend changing out your water every other day or so to help prevent disease. Once the roots have grown to a respectable length, go ahead and pot that whole new plant up. (Thanks for the free plants Wal-Mart).

Pruning during the season

There are some great benefits to pruning your Basil regularly. First and foremost it promotes new healthy growth. By trimming on the go you have access to some of the freshest herbs in the kitchen. Most of my basil trimmings end up on top of a cardboard pizza (frozen pizza), definitely makes that $3 meal feel Fancy. The third benefit is to promote growth later in the season as well. Once basil plants produce flowers they will expend less nutrients on growing vegetation.

Non-trimmed Sweet Basil

3 Reasons To Regularly Trim Basil

  • Promotes new expansive growth, by increasing the amount of stems to produce leaves.
  • Great to use in the kitchen as a fresh herb, I mean it’s only 15 ft. away from your cutting board.
  • Trimming flowers later in the season to help encourage more vegetation growth.

Trimming Method

When trimming basil plucking individual leaves will not stimulate growth. The way to trim and stimulate growth is to remove the entire stem section just above a good set of leaves. As a general rule it is best to not remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. This ensures it can survive the pruning process and produce more to harvest.

Trimming or Pinching Basil

Once trimmed you will start to see the new growth in the next couple of days. Enjoy watching your basil plant become a bush and at that point you will have more than you know what to do with. This is where drying or freezing your basil can come in handy.

If you don’t want to pinch the stems in fear of ripping your whole plant out of the ground a good pair of garden shears will do the trick as well.


Before Trimming
Before Trimming Photo

After Trimming
After Trimming Photo

After trimming your basil, it may look sad for a few days, this is normal as it is for all of us when we lose a part of ourselves. Be like the basil plant and come back renewed and bigger than ever. No matter how many times you trim it during its life cycle it will keep trying to produce new stems to make new leaves.


What do you do with all of the excess basil?!?

I have not personally ever frozen basil, so as such I will layout a general idea of what to do and point you to the right person to explain it better than I.

Freezing

Wash and Freeze, Blanch and Freeze, or Chop and Freeze. After a light washing and drying you can flash freeze your basil to store and use as you like. The Spruce Eats covers all 3 of these methods in greater detail and better finesse than I ever could.


Drying
Oven Dried Basil Leaves

There are two main ways to dry basil, the first being slower and more nature based. One way to dry basil is hang it up on a rack in a warm dry room to allow the leaves to reach crumbling texture in around a 2 week time period. Another method for drying the leaves is by using an oven at the lowest setting. I have used this method a few times with great success. It took 2-3 hours at the lowest setting but once they were done, the part of grinding them up was as simple as ever. As a way to make sure they were not burning I would open the oven every 45 minutes to toss the leaves and ensure none were stuck to the tray and burning. (Burnt basil doesn’t smell the greatest.)

If you are looking for a better harvest of basil the answer may be trimming.

Pre-drying basil

Again no matter if the basil is growing in the ground, in a pot, or in a raised bed garden it will benefit greatly from pruning/trimming. The amount of dishes that basil can be used in is extensive and only limited by what you think is normal.

If you are looking to expand your herb garden into your kitchen check out these products for some ideas.
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Definitely a wish list item, but hey I can dream.


If you found the article interesting or helpful in anyway please share it to Facebook or any other social media outlet as it helps me out tremendously.

Keep mother nature alive and prospering, your own livelihood depends on it.

I am an affiliate and links located throughout the article will provide me with a commission on any purchases made.

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Myers Greens LLC

Myers Greens is a nursery located in southwest Iowa. With the main goal of providing top quality microgreens and fresh herbs. Follow the blog to keep up to date on what we are growing.

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