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How to Prune a Leggy Basil Plant to Make it Bushy

How to Prune a Leggy Basil Plant to Make it Bushy

The basil plant, also known as Ocimum Basilicum, is an annual herb widely used in kitchens worldwide.

This sweet basil is grown primarily for its aromatic leaves.

Its exotic flavor is used in fish and meat seasoning, salads, sauces, and tea.

The basil plant, as excellent as it is, comes with a few problems; after some time when left unattended, it may begin to form leggy stems.

To keep your Basil healthy and thriving, it is necessary to prune it from time to time.


How to Prune a Leggy Basil Plant to make it Bushy

The basil plant should ideally be pruned in such a way that only one set of basil leaves remains above the main branch points. Usually, basil is pruned when it grows taller than 8 inches or every two weeks to make it bushy. Furthermore, pruning will not only improve the overall look and yield of the plant. It will also promote new growth and enhance nutrition supply to existing foliage.



The basil plant is a popular herb from the mint family of Lamiaceae. It produces an exceptional flavor when added to foods, such as pizza and salads. While its use is common worldwide, it is grown most extensively in Asian countries, such as Pakistan and India.

The Basil plant has average houseplant’s needs. It requires a temperate environment and moist, well-draining organic soil. Furthermore, basil plant thrives under full sunlight and prefers frequent watering.

I recommend cutting off a few vines every two weeks to maintain a bushy appearance and discourage the growth of leggy stems on the basil plant.

Regular pruning encourages new growth, increases the Basil plant’s productivity, and allows the plant to develop abundant flavorful leaves that have a pleasantly strong aroma.


Why does the Basil Plant Form Leggy Stems?

If your Basil plant has formed leggy vines, in no way does it mean you have lost your chance for a delicious harvest. It is usual for almost all plants to develop irregular and unruly vines as they grow.

Most plants can be pruned and be brought back to their original state with a bit of extra care.

There is a long list of reasons for the Basil plant to develop unruly leggy stems. The good news is that most problems are detected fairly quickly and can be treated before they lead to significant damage or legginess in this case.


Common reasons for leggy Basil 


Excessive Amounts of Fertilizer

While plants enjoy being pampered and fed, sometimes too much of either of these two things can lead to a wide variety of problems.

When fertilized too often or in surplus amounts, the Basil plant reacts by forming leggy stems. Some foliage may also be affected; this shows up as discolored or twisted leaves.

If you are wondering how to feed your Basil plant, I suggest you evenly spread a balanced good-quality fertilizer over the plant’s soil every 2-weeks indoors and every 4-weeks outdoors.


Insufficient Sunlight

Sunlight is a plants’ best friend; however, please remember while some plants like full sun, others prefer dappled natural lighting. The basil plant’s case is former; it loves sunshine and absorbs as much of it as possible.

Therefore, when put in inadequate sunlight, it becomes leggy.

I advise you to place this flavorful plant in at least 6 hours of direct sunlight throughout the year.


Lack of Pruning

It probably comes as no surprise that lack of pruning causes the formation of leggy stems in Basil plants.

Regular cutting here and there with a pair of clean scissors is necessary for the leaves to retain their characteristic flavor.

I suggest you prune your Basil plant approximately every four weeks from the top or right above the two sets of leaves at the bottom.

If the plant develops flowers, there is a high probability that it will lose flavor, and ultimately, its primary use in food making. 

So cut off the flowers of your basil as soon as you spot any.


Why is it important to keep Basil Plants bushy?

You might wonder why the Basil plant’s bushy appearance important. Some varieties of the Lamiaceae family can grow exceptionally well even when left wispy; however, the Basil plant develops its characteristic flavor only when placed in ideal conditions, pruned regularly, and kept bushy.


Ways to keep your Basil plant bushy

  • Maintaining warm conditions
  • Establishing proper and adequate drainage
  • Watering the plant’s soil, not its leaves
  • Place it in direct sunlight
  • Harvesting the fully mature leaves at the right time
  • Regular and careful pruning
  • Fertilizing after every 2 weeks indoors and every 4 weeks outdoors


How to Prune a Basil Plant like a Pro

A healthy basil plant seedling can turn woody, scraggly, and sparse within days if not pruned regularly. The pruning process needs to be done in the right way for the plant to thrive and grow.

Choosing which leaves to remove during the pruning process can make or break things for your Basil plant. As is the case with this herb, and many similar plants, cutting off the higher leaves should be the priority.

Many people make the mistake of removing the bottom leaves of the plant. The big mature leaves here are the powerhouses of the Basil plant.

They absorb sunlight most efficiently and produce the needed amount of nutrition. The consistent nutrient supply promotes new growth and allows existing leaves and branches to thrive.

Moreover, they support the plant and hold it upright. If you remove these powerhouse bottom leaves, your Basil plant will most likely collapse.

Similarly, if you have cut your Basil plant’s leaves incorrectly, it will form new leaves.  But they will most likely only grow from a central branch. Ultimately, such a plant turns skimpy and woody with sparse leaves and dies.


Steps for Pruning a Leggy Basil Plant


Identify the right leaves to cut

Pick the leaves growing at the top of the plant. Although small, cutting these leaves allows the Basil plant to produce usually two new branches from each leaf’s removal spot.

These newly formed branches will give rise to new sets of leaves. When these new leaves are pruned again, more branches will sprout with a new batch of leaves.

This method of pruning allows the Basil plant to spread and grow outward instead of upward only. Your plant will gradually develop exponentially as you prune it.


Prune Basil

Now that you have identified the leaves to be cut, remove the branch right above these tiny leaves.

Ensure that you do not disturb the surrounding leaves and stems or make any unnecessary cuts.

One benefit of pruning is that the Basil leaves on the new branches will be just as tasty as those on the older, parent branches

I recommend using a pair of disinfected herbs pruning shears for a clean cut.


Repeat the process

After learning where and how to cut, repeat this process about every four weeks. Follow the same steps and precautions each time for a constant seasonal supply of fresh basil leaves.


Read about why basil leaves curl next and about how to avoid brown spots on basil.


Frequently Asked Questions About Pruning a Leggy Basil Plant


Why is pruning a leggy Basil plant necessary?

Leggy stems give Basil plants an irregular appearance, take up excess nutrients, and may even cause the plant to eventually collapse. To prevent all such mishaps, pruning is necessary.


Where should I prune my Basil plant from?

Prune your Basil plant right above the two sets of bottom leaves. The leaves present on the lower end support the plant and produce abundant nutrients.


What happens if my Basil plant produces flowers?

If the Basil plant produces flowers, the leaves lose their characteristic flavor. Therefore, it is best that you prune it before the plant flowers.

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