Trimming Basil Leaves: Tips For Cutting Back Basil Plants

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By Amy Grant

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a member of the Lamiaceae family, known for outstanding aromas, and basil is no exception. The leaves of this annual herb have a high concentration of essential oils, making it a piquant addition to many various cuisines around the globe. What is the best way of trimming or pruning back basil plant leaves?

How to Trim a Basil Plant

Basil is grown for its flavorful leaves, which can be used fresh or dried. However, there is no comparison and fresh is better than dried. There are a number of different varieties of basil, with the most common being Sweet Basil used to make magnificent pesto sauce.


Basil is a very easy herb to grow and can be started indoors in flats or outside in the garden after the danger of the last frost has passed. Plant the seed no deeper than twice the length of the seed in a sunny exposure. Basil seedlings will emerge within five to seven days and can be thinned when they have two leaves. Transplant them 12 inches apart and keep the plants consistently moist.

Basil leaves are quite delicate and barely bruising the leaf releases the aroma of the essential oils, which quickly begin to dissipate. Therefore, pruning basil leaves with care is a necessity.

You don’t need to prune basil plants when they are still small; wait until the herb is about 6 inches tall before trimming basil leaves. The more often you prune the basil plant, the bushier and leafier it becomes.

As soon as flowers become evident, pinch them off so the energy in the plant stays diverted to foliage growth. If the basil plant is growing vertically, pinch the leaves from the top to encourage lateral growth. Use the pinched leaves or dry them, so there’s no waste. Basil grows quickly, so even if you don’t want to use the leaves right away (gasp!), keep trimming back the plant when it gets large and bushy.

To harvest basil, cut the herb back about ¼-inch above a node, 3 inches from the base of the plant. Leave a few inches of leaves on the plant after pruning. You can be quite aggressive when pruning basil plants since, as already mentioned, they are rapid growers. Even after a major cutting back, the herb will be ready for pruning again in a few weeks.

Pinching or cutting back basil plants regularly encourages full, bushy plants. There is no mystery or exact science to cutting back basil plants. Trim a basil plant every two to three weeks and pinch off the flower buds as soon as you see them. Trust me, the plant loves this and it will only encourage more vigorous growth while providing you with plenty of fresh basil leaves to stretch those culinary wings.

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