This post will cover how you should prune basil as well as cover some ways you can preserve your harvest to use during the off-season.
How to Prune Basil
To properly care for your basil, you should prune it often. The biggest mistake people make when harvesting their basil is to just remove leaves, thinking they will grow back. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t stimulate future growth. Instead, you will want to remove portions of the stem and plant.
To prune your basil, complete the following:
Examine a basil stem to make sure that there is more than one set of basil shoots that are growing out of it. Look for at least two small leaf buds that growing out of an axil.
LIf the stem is thicker, you may need to use hand pruners or herb snips. Otherwise, you may be able to pinch the stem away with your fingers. You do want to make sure that you don’t cause any damage to the stem as you work.
Snip the top part of the plant off about 1/4 of an inch above the new shoots. These should start growing out into two different stems. Set your harvested basil aside until you finish pruning your plants.
When Should You Start Pruning Your Basil?
You should wait until your basil plants have grown to between 6 and 8 inches tall before you start pruning or harvesting them. This way, the plants will have a solid base that will develop new branches and more of the delicious herb to enjoy.
Your plants should also have 3 or 4 sets of leaves on them, that way you can cut back (or pinch back) to a set of leaves that can then branch out to create more stems.
How Often Should You Prune Basil?
Basil grows very quickly and it is a good idea to continually prune back and harvest your basil every 1-2 weeks. Not only does this mean that you can continually take advantage of the delicious herb, but your plants will produce even more in the coming weeks as they will spread out and form new leaves.
That being said, how often you prune your own basil will depend on you and your plants. As you become more skilled in harvesting your herbs, you’ll get a better sense of when they need to be pruned back and how.
How to Remove Basil Flowers
It is important to remove developing flowers as you see them on your plants. If your plant is working toward budding, it will produce fewer leaves and could alter the taste of the herbs. While you may notice early buds, most basil plants will begin to develop flowers halfway through the summer season.
Make sure that you frequently check the top of your plants to make sure that flowers are not developing. When you do see them, pinch them at the base of the flower and gently pull them to remove them. You can also use scissors or pruning shears if you prefer.
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with what the flowers look like on your variety of plants. On some plants, they look like a cluster of leaves, whereas on Thai basil, they are purple flowers. Greek basil grows several shoots of leaves that end in flowers (you may want to use sheers to speed pruning that variety along). Regardless of the flower, try to remove it as soon as you notice it to keep your plant focused on its leaves.
Best Ways to Preserve Basil
While fresh basil is divine for caprese, pizza, and many other dishes, if your pruning goes well, you will likely end up with more herbs than you need. Here are a few ways you can preserve your herb so that you can take advantage of basil’s benefits even after your plants have finished producing:
There are many amazing pesto recipes online that you can make, creating a sauce that can ultimately be canned or frozen. This is a delicious way to preserve your herbs to be used even in the dead of winter.
Dry Your Leaves
You can dry your leaves to preserve them without having to mix them with other ingredients. To do this, gather several leaves that still have a bit of stem on them and gather them together. Tie string around the stem, then hang the leaves in a dry, warm room that doesn’t get direct sunlight. Alternatively, you can use a herb drying rack or a dehydrator for the same results. Once dried, either crumble the leaves for storage or place them in sealable bags or jars.
Freeze Your Basil
To freeze your leaves, you will need to add your fresh basil and a little olive oil to a food processor. Once the leaves are chopped, you can put them in a labeled freezer bag for long-term storage.