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basil herb

How and When to Prune Basil for the First Time

Knowing when to prune basil for the first time is actually one of the most important things that you can do for your grown basil plant.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about potted basil plants, garden basil or hydroponic basil. Each type needs to be pruned periodically.

Pruning has a lot of benefits. It’s how we exponentially increase the yield, how we harvest it to always have fresh basil in the house or how we obtain cuttings for growing new basil plants.

When to Prune Basil for the First Time

when to prune basil

Basil only needs to be pruned when it has achieved a certain height. Small plants don’t need to be pruned. Well, it’s only logical because what is there to prune if it’s only a tiny plant with tiny leaves?

When the plant is about 6 inches tall (approx. 15 cm) is when you need to prune basil for the first time.

How long does it take until a basil plant is tall enough for pruning? If you’re starting from directly seeding the herb outside, it can take up to 8 weeks.

Paying attention to the right height (of about 6 inches) is essential when it comes to pruning basil for the first time.
The plant will have 3-4-5 sets of true leaves.

Pruning too soon might leave the plant not receiving enough energy and that’s why we’re here to learn when to prune basil for the first time. Thankfully, it’s only a matter of having a good height.

Well, you will be able to tell when to prune your basil for the first time because it will be quite tall and it will have a cluster of very large leaves at the top.

In general, all herbs need to be pruned but the process can be different from herb to herb. For example, evergreen herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) need to be pruned just once a year.

How to Prune a Basil Plant

how to prune basil

Pruning basil plant for the first time

This guide applies to all types of basil and to all locations, whether you’re growing it in the garden, indoors in a pot or in a hydroponic system.

The best types of basil to grow are: sweet basil Genovese, Thai, lemon basil, Spicy Globe, Pesto Perpetuo.

If you need a visual guide that explains the whole process, check out this video.

I’ll give you the basic steps for how to prune a basil plant (it will only take a couple of minutes):

1. Cut off the central stem

Pruning basil means cutting off the central stem to push the plant into growing two central stems.

Besides vertical growth (single central stem), it achieves lateral growth (two central stems). And it doubles the amount of leaves, as well

Well, cutting the central stem might seem like the wrong decision because you’re actually cutting the big part of the plant, the one with the very big leaves at the top but it’s completely the right decision.

2. Cut above a very small set of leaves

The central stem needs to be cut at an angle right above what will look like a very small set of leaves, they will be really tiny.

You will be cutting a bit more than half of the central stem.

3. What remains

What remains after pruning is a small plant.

It will look quite fragile, so small compared to what you had before but that’s what pruning a basil plant entails. You’re doing the right thing.

The trimmed stem can be planted into a separate pot to grow another basil plant.

4. What you need for pruning basil

You only need a pair of pruning shears or herb scissors.

The most important feature is that the pruners need to be extremely sharp so that the plant isn’t damaged.

You can also use a pair of regular scissors if you know that they’re incredibly sharp.

5. How often to prune basil

You will need to continually prune a basil plant throughout the summer, once every 1-2 weeks.

Whenever you see a bloom forming, you can just pinch the bloom with your fingers if it’s just starting to show. They’re pretty fragile. Otherwise, use your clippers.

It’s good to remove any blooms to prevent the leaves from changing flavor and to keep the plant growing. It will postpone the appearance basil flowers. Once basil flowers, the growing cycle is over. You will need to start a new plant.

What Pruning Basil Achieves

benefits of pruning basil

We’ve answered the question when to prune basil for the first time but let’s also cover other important facts.

That means understanding what pruning basil will help you achieve. This is the easiest way to decide if you want to do it or just let the plant grow as it wants, without any positive interference.

Pruning has a single-minded objective: to increase the crop yield. It’s why we should take the time to understand when to prune basil for the first time and when to continue doing it after that first attempt.

How do you make a basil plant give a higher yield?

Make it have lateral growth not only vertical growth.


Pruning basil will encourage the herb towards lateral growth not only vertical growth. It will make it fuller and it will look gorgeous.

Moreover, it will let natural light or grow light reach the plant’s tiny leaves.

Last but not least,

We need to learn how to prune a basil plant in order to maintain its delicious flavor throughout the summer. The flavor can change when the plant blooms, it can become slightly bitter.

If a bloom starts to show, just pinch it with your fingers and remove it.

The good news is that understanding how to prune a basil plant is an easy process and you can’t actually mess it up.

You can be aggressive because this is a plant that grows quickly.

Plus, you get to enjoy the cut fresh leaves. I recommend enjoying them fresh or making them into a pesto. I’m really not a fan of drying basil leaves because most of the flavor is gone. It doesn’t compare with how dried rosemary still retains so much of its delicious flavor.

How to Grow Basil

how to grow basil

Planting basil in potting soil

Most people go for the method of growing basil from seeds. Basil will grow from seeds in about 3-4 weeks, that’s when you can begin to use the fully developed leaves.

It needs up to 10 days to germinate.

The other option, which speeds up the whole growing basil process, is to buy a sapling and transfer it at home in a larger pot.

You can also grow it from cuttings or you can use a hydroponics system for all kinds of herbs and vegetables.

1. In Potting Soil

growing basil in potting soil

You can grow basil in potting soil very easily and you can’t go wrong with it. It’s the most popular method for growing basil.

You can plant the seeds directly into the potting soil, which can be placed in a pot or any other type of durable container. It can be any container when it comes to this herb but a larger pot would be a great choice.

Just remember:

  • plant the seeds 1/4 inches deep – they need light to germinate
  • ensure warm temperatures (70-90 degrees F)
  • it needs 6-8 hours direct sunlight or grow lights, either works very well
  • high-quality potting soil would be an awesome choice to plant the seeds in – you can mix in organic fertilizer if it doesn’t already contain fertilizer
  • keep the soil moist but not soggy, your pot needs to have proper drainage
  • don’t ever let it dry out, a wilted basil can be revived if you notice it quickly
  • check to see if the soil is dry by simply sticking your finger in to the second knuckle
  • it can grow on its own or you can add liquid fertilizer twice a month

2. Grow basil from cuttings

growing basil from cuttings

You can plant some of the trimmed stems in other pots or in the garden to grow other full basil plants.

Growing basil from cuttings is much quicker than starting off with seeds. Here’s a very good guide.

Besides planting the stem directly in soil, you can also take the stem and put it in a cut plastic bottle/a glass of water/a jar. Fill any of these temporary containers with water and place them on the window sill.

If the stem has leaves on the bottom remove them, otherwise they will rot in water. It’s better to use them for cooking.

Once the roots start to appear you can transplant them in the garden or in a pot. It will take about 2 weeks.

Don’t forget to change the water once every few days.

That’s one very easy way to grow basil, a method that will take full advantage of your pruning knowledge. Now you know when to prune basil and growing basil from cuttings can be the next step.

If you keep it up, you can give basil plants away to everyone you know.

3. Hydroponic Basil

growing hydroponic basil

Hydroponics basil

If you want to avoid using soil altogether then you can buy a small hydroponics system and grow basil, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and so many other herbs and vegetables.

This type of agriculture utilizes a growing medium instead of soil and plants are simply grown with water and nutrient solution.

Growing basil hydroponically is pretty much free of complications if you’ve got a hydroponic kit for beginners, which does a lot of the work for you.

Hydroponic systems like AeroGarden come with their own pods of herbs, one of them containing Genovese basil and the other containing Thai basil. The rest contain curly parsley, dill, thyme, and mint.

The major advantage with this kind of systems is that they deliver everything you need, you don’t have to worry about anything or know much of anything about hydroponics.

You can still learn how to prune a basil plant and when to prune basil for the first time, the same concepts apply to a hydroponics system. This article is useful to everyone who wants higher yields from their basil.

What if you don’t prune basil?

Most of us assume that basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow anywhere anytime and for the most part we would be right. There’s just the question of how to prune a basil plant that needed to be answered and we just did that.

Or maybe you will decide that pruning basil is not something you’re interested in at all and you’ll just leave the plant be. You’ll let it grow as it likes and then just consume it whenever you need it until nothing is left.

Then, you can start by germinating a new set of basil seeds and grow another plant for as long as it lasts.

Well, that’s not something that I recommend. Why waste all the potential that a simple pruning can bring? After all, you saw when you need to prune basil for the first time and exactly how to do it.