How to Trim Basil For a Larger Harvest

How to Trim Basil For a Larger Harvest

Last Updated On: February 18, 2023

The secret to growing big bushy plants is regular trimming, and basil is no exception. Some gardeners might feel a bit nervous about cutting back their basil plants for fear of damaging them, or worse, causing the basil plants to produce fewer leaves.

The opposite is actually true. When you prune or harvest basil leaves regularly, you encourage the plant to grow more. This results in a basil plant that is healthier and with bushier growth than before. If you’ve always wanted to learn the secret to cultivating bushy basil plants, this is your chance. We’ll look at how you can trim your basil plant, and in doing so, encourage a fuller, healthier plant.

Trimming Basil

There are two aspects to trimming any plant to key in mind, how much and when. You want to trim them at the right times to encourage proper growth, and you also want to trim the correct amounts. We’ll look at both of these in-depth shortly, but first, let’s look at some reasons why you should even consider trimming your basil in the first place.

Why Trim at All?

If you’re wondering why basil should be trimmed, there are plenty of great reasons. Here are three of the top reasons to consider doing so.

1. For Culinary Use

Harvesting is a form of trimming, and it makes no difference to the plant if you’re trimming to cook with. Harvested basil leaves make wonderful additions to sauces, pizza, pasta, and even salads. Aside from being a wonderful aromatic herb, basil contains various antioxidants that help protect us from various health issues.

2. To Stimulate Growth

While it seems quite contrary, healthy plants actually thrive even more when pruned regularly. The removal of mature leaves can stimulate plants, such as basil, to produce even more foliage. When the stems get clipped back, the plant responds by growing more sets of leaves. Over time, this leads to a fuller plant that produces much more harvestable herbs.

3. To Reduce Flowers

You may not know it, but basil is a flowering plant as well. While the flowers are attractive, their presence will often spoil the taste of the herb and take up valuable energy. Producing flowers takes a lot of the plant’s energy. This is energy that could have been used to create more harvestable herbs but is instead being diverted to flowering.

When the flowers are left on the plant, they can cause it to grow leggy or scraggly. To encourage better foliar growth, trim off stems that are about to bloom.

What You’ll Need to Trim Basil Plants

Most of the time, it doesn’t take much to trim basil. With that said, you might also need to prepare some tools in case you have more than one plant to trim. Here are some options you can use to trim your basil and other similar plants.


Yes, you can definitely use your fingers to pinch off excess growth from your basil plants. This works when your basil is still young. As your plant grows, it may be a bit harder to cut its parts off cleanly without the use of tools.

Micro Snips

These small pruners are perfect for seedlings and mature plants that require precision cuts. Micro snips are small shears that do not have finger holes. Instead, they rely on a spring to keep them locked and loaded for clean, intricate cuts on plant parts. These work well for small plants like basil as they tend to be easy to control and more precise than larger instruments.

Pruning Shears

These types of cutters are ideal for plants that can get a bit woodier as they grow. Pruning shears can handle larger and tougher plant parts, so they will be handy if you have woody plants. In general, these are a bit overkill for most indoor basil plants. While you can certainly use them, small shears, as mentioned above, are often cheaper and easier to use.

Sterilizing Equipment or Materials

Some homeowners use electric tool sterilizers. However, they can be a bit expensive. Some homeowners also resort to boiling or steaming their tools. While this does remove fungi, viruses, and bacteria, it can also cause metal tools and parts to rust.

To make things simpler and more cost-effective, always wipe down your tools with ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. The higher the percentage, the stronger its sterilization properties. It’s best to sterilize your tools before and after use.

Two Ways to Trim Basil Plants

There are actually two ways in trimming basil plants: the wrong way and the right way. Let’s first look at the wrong way, so you can avoid making the same mistake, and then we’ll show you how to properly trim your basil plant.

The Wrong Way to Trim Basil Plants

Many gardeners think that the right way to encourage basil plants to grow is to pluck off the leaves. When you do this, it can cause the plant to develop a leggy or scraggly growth. Aside from being unattractive, this method does not encourage the plant to produce more leaves. This will actually harm the plant as it will be able to take in less sunlight that’s needed for growth.

The Right Way to Trim Basil Plants

When first trimming your basil, it’s important to take your plant’s growth stage into account. For instance, you might be growing basil from seeds, or you might have basil seedlings that you purchased from your local nursery or plant supplier. You might have been gifted with a basil plant or have one that is perfectly established. Let’s look at the differences between each one.

Correctly Trim Basil Plants Grown from Seed

If you have basil plants grown from seeds, and they have reached a height of 6 inches to 8 inches, they are probably ready to be trimmed. To determine their readiness, check if your basil plant has at least 3 to 4 sets of true leaves. These leaves should be coming out of the central stem, which is likely the only stem at this point in your plant’s growth.

If the above conditions are met, then it’s a good time to trim. I usually look to cut my basil plants back to about ¼ of an inch above the set of leaves. Do this with a clean cut to avoid damaging the stem or any of the neighboring leaves.

Once trimmed, your basil plant will end up growing two opposing sets of leaves from the node instead of a singular upright growth. As a result, your basil plant ends up with more foliage, bushier growth, and a compact appearance.

Correctly Trim Basil Seedlings

For more established seedlings, do the same trimming process. As a rule of thumb, avoid trimming more than 50 percent to 70 percent of the plant. When basil is aggressively thinned out by pruning, it can cause the plant to go into shock.

Instead, keep around 30 percent to 50 percent of the leaves intact. This will allow the plant to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis. As a result, your basil plant will end up with more leaves and bushier growth than before.

Correctly Trim Established or Mature Basil Plants

For more established plants, you can implement this trimming technique as well. However, since your basil plants are at their peak, they may be starting to produce flowers. You’ll need to look for stalks that are about to produce basil blooms and prioritize them for trimming.

You can easily tell that these are flower stalks as they have soft spikes coming out. These spikes produce clusters of small flowers. Typically, flower stalks come out when basil plants are left untrimmed for some time.

To encourage more leaf growth, trim off the stems that have growing flower spikes. Cut off above the node to encourage leaf growth in this area. Once the flower spike is removed, your basil plant will focus on producing more leaves instead of flowers.

How To Trim Basil

Trimming your basil plants is easy and doesn’t require much preparation. All you need to remember is to prune them frequently, and you’ll be rewarded with healthy and bushy basil plants. For best results, prune every two weeks or so, especially during the summertime, so that your basil plants are encouraged to develop more leaves.

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