How to Cut a Basil Plant

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Basil is a long-time favorite of the summer garden for its savory characteristics, ease of cultivation and prolific growth. It is also among those garden plants that require repeated cutting in order to produce bumper crops. It is fair to say that if you spare the scissors, you spoil the plant. Stringent cutting can reward you with as many as 24 cups of basil leaves per plant in a season. When you know how to cut a basil plant to encourage its production, you will have enough basil to use all season, share abundantly and preserve for the colder months ahead.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden scissors
  • Basket
  • Cut off the top growth of a basil plant seedling.Cut off the top of the plant just above the third fully developed pair of leaves. Make this cut exactly where the stem of the top growth emerges from that pair of leaves. This early pruning encourages new leaf production and healthy root growth.

  • Cut off all new tips at transplanting time.Since you first pruned the seedling, the basil plant has begun to create stems, branching like a tree. When it is time to set the plant in the garden, remove the tip from every stem. Make the cut exactly where this fresh growth emerges from between the pair of leaves below it, as you did when you pruned the seedling. This pruning encourages the plant to channel its energies into establishing a strong root system and producing more branches.

  • Cut the maturing basil plant every three to four weeks.At transplanting time, you cut away new growth to encourage production. Now it is time to reap the rewards. Every three to four weeks, cut each stem so that no fewer than two pair of leaves remain. By mid-season, you will have a bumper crop.

  • Remove all seed heads.As the plant matures, it begins to produce seed heads. This process signals the plant to stop producing new leaves. As soon as you see seed heads develop, cut the seed head stem below the pair of leaves from which the seed heads are emerging.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use all basil plant cuttings, no matter how tiny. Even the snipped tips from a dozen basil plant seedlings can add a lot of zest to an early summer salad.
  • If you can't use or preserve cuttings when you make them, submerge their stems in water and keep the cuttings away from direct sunlight. The savory quality will remain for a day or so.
  • A favorite use for basil is making pesto. When your bumper crop is in full swing, make pesto and then freeze it in ice cube trays. When the cubes are frozen, turn them into a plastic bag, seal, and return to the freezer. What a wonderful winter treat, redolent with the smells, tastes and dreams of summer.

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