How to prune basil with pruning scissors

How To Prune Basil For A Flavorful, Bushy Plant Forever

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Pruning makes your plant healthy. It may sound counterintuitive, but pruning basil keeps the plant bushy, young, and flavourful forever.

There are many reasons to prune a basil plant. You may cut down the branches as part of your regular harvest or to remove diseased ones. But, pruning basil wrongly can be harmful to the plant. The trimmed branches can be either preserved or used to propagate new plants. All of these are the focus of this post.

You can prune all basil varieties. Some varieties may need frequent pruning, too.

In this post, we focus on basil grown in hydroponics. However, the techniques are so common that they can also be used for soil-based basil. Hydroponically grown basil also has the extra benefit of root pruning.

5 Reasons to prune basil plants

As mentioned, pruning basil has many reasons. Here are a few I consider essential.

1. Regular harvest

One reason to grow basil is its natural aroma, and the other is to make your dishes more appealing. Why would you grow basil if you’re not going to eat it?

You can cut and chop it and put it in various dishes. You can make pesto, use it as a pizza topping, spice up your soups, and more.

In a later section of this post, we’ll discuss how to preserve your harvest.

2. Avoid maturing and flowering.

Mature basil plants that keep flowering taste bitter. This concept is arguable, but I, too, believe in it. Basil flowers appear at the tip of each branch. Regular pruning discourages flowering.

Also, flowering causes the plant to produce fewer leaves. Then what’s the point?

Some basil varieties also use flowers in cooking. Yet, the flowers have a more robust flavor than the leaves. If that’s the goal, you can leave your basil to flower.

Some basil varieties flower sooner than others, and some flower more frequently. For instance, here’s my cinnamon basil, which flowers at two months, compared to my sweet basil, which hasn’t flowered yet after several months. Depending on your variety and the desire to have flowers, you may change the frequency of pruning.

3. Keep the plant bushy.

Pruning is the age-old strategy for producing new branches and more young leaves. This is true for basil and most other plants that need to be kept as bushes. For instance, tea is pruned on thousands of hectares of land.

When you prune the basil plant, the leaves below the cut will produce stems. Once these stems are sufficiently large, you can prune them, too. Eventually, leaves in those stems will start producing more stems. In this way, pruning encourages lateral growth.

Unpruned basil grows taller, but most edible varieties grow up to 2-3 feet and seize. Without turning, these basils don’t reach their fullest potential.

4. Remove diseased branches

It’s too straightforward. If you see signs of infection, pruning is sometimes the only remedy.

For instance, I’ve had leafminer attacks on my sweet basil. Before I saw it, those little larvae took hold of an entire branch. Although I can prevent leafminer, those infected leaves can’t be repaired. Although they don’t spread like viruses, leafminers someday will start attacking the rest of the plant. Thus, I removed the entire branch.

Related: How To Manage Leafminers In Your Garden

Like leafminers, bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, and other diseases can spread from branch to branch.

5. Improve airflow

Airflow is critical for plant growth. It promotes growth and plays a pivotal role in preventing certain diseases.

Insufficient airflow discourages plant water uptake, preventing plants from getting the proper nutrients. For instance, if you see tip burns in your basil plants, the leaves don’t get calcium near their tips. Increasing calcium in the nutrient solution won’t benefit the plant without restoring airflow.

Another reason to care about airflow is diseases. While pruning diseased branches can prevent them from spreading, increased airflow will prevent infection in the first place. A good example is powdery mildew. They attach many types of plants, including basil. The prime reason for powdery mildew is insufficient airflow.

Related: Hydroponic Basil Pests And Diseases

When should you start pruning basil, and how often?

If you’re growing basil from seedlings, it will take about a month to reach 6-8 inches tall. At this point, you’ll see three or four sets of leaves. This is the right time to prune basil plants for the first time.

Leave the first set of leaves from the bottom. If you have four or more leaves, you can leave two sets. You may already see some stems shooting out near these leaves. Cut one-third of an inch above these leaves and stems.

Pruning basil leaving two sets of leaves and stems

Cuts too close to the stems may introduce infection. When the cut is far enough, the plant’s natural immunity will take care of it.

Different basil varieties grow at different speeds, so you may have to wait longer to prune some varieties. The frequency of pruning also differs between basil varieties.

Following the above instructions can keep it simple. Cut it every time you see more than three sets of leaves on a stem. Also, if you see flower buds, cut that stem too.

Related: Pruning Hydroponic Plants

What to do with the pruned basil branches?

Although we stated five reasons to prune basil, the prime reason is harvesting. Harvested basil can be added to your dishes freshly. Fresh basil has a distinct aroma and flavor that most people like.

If there is too much for consumption, the next best thing is to preserve it. You can preserve basil by putting it in the freezer or drying it. Dried basil has a higher concentration of nutrients than fresh ones in every teaspoon. It is also inexpensive and more convenient to store and reuse. This way, you can preserve basil for several months.

The last way you can use your cuttings is by propagating new plants. Place the cuttings in a jar of tap water. You’ll see roots in a few days. Once you have the roots, you can transplant them to your hydroponic system or pot with a correct mix.

How not to prune basil?

We’ve discussed pruning basil a lot. Lastly, we should also talk about how not to prune. Mistakes can even kill your plant.

The first mistake is pruning basil with an uncleaned tool. Always use disinfected pruning scissors. A more convenient wipe will work, but if not, you can also show them in a flame of fire, which is cheaper.

Secondly, please don’t cut it too close to the stems you wish to keep. As mentioned, this would infect the stems. Cuts too far from the stems aren’t good either. That entire orphan stem is useless and still consuming energy from the plant. About one-third of an inch is suitable for basil pruning.

Lastly, don’t pick basil leaves. Picking leaves doesn’t stimulate growth, and it only harms the plant. Cut the stem instead of picking leaves.

Related: 4 Pruning mistakes to avoid


Basil has existed for several millennia. Today, we grow it in hydroponics and on a large scale.

Although basil is a resilient plant variety, a little more care could ensure prolonged enjoyment of the plant. This post has discussed the reason behind pruning basil, how to prune them, how not, and how to use the pruned stems.

I hope you have a never slowing produce of fresh basil at home.

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