Pruning basil for growth is the one thing you should do to keep a steady supply of the tasty Mediterranean herb in your garden. 'Wait but – don't you just let basil do its thing?' you might ask. 'Isn't growing herbs supposed to be easy?'
The answer is that yes, it is mostly very easy to learn how to grow basil, but you do need to prune it. Gardening expert and creator of Epic Gardening Kevin Espiritu has recently demonstrated the only way to prune basil if you want a bushy, good-looking plant that doesn't get leggy.
It might sound like pruning basil 'so it grows forever' is a bit of a hyperbole, but Kevin's basil plant is so bushy and healthy that it's hard not to believe that it will continue thriving for a good while yet.
While the gardening expert does acknowledge that basil's ability to grow outwards isn't limitless, it's usually 'a lot longer than you'd think' before that point comes, so go ahead and use this method and see how long your basil plant will keep producing tasty leaves.
The trick with Kevin's method is to keep pinching out the main stem growth, right above the two side shoots. This removes 'the growth hormone' which is then redistributed to the side shoots, encouraging bushier side growth. It really is that simple – and much simpler than pruning shrubs.
You can clearly see the main stem growth in a basil plant – it is thicker and more upright than the side stems that are thinner and grow outwards. A young basil plant will have just one central stem, but older plants will have multiple central stems, all of which can be pinched back by as much as a third.
Kevin's method is tried and tested by many professional gardeners. David Domoney even goes as far as to recommend removing up to two-thirds of a basil plant to improve your harvest.
'For larger crops harvest the entire top two-thirds of the plants. The base will then regrow for a second harvest, although this may take a little while,' he explains. 'If flowers develop these should be removed to prolong the harvest of leaves.'
Essentially, that's what this pruning method is all about – preventing the basil plant from flowering in order to increase the yield of the (tasty) leaves. Basil is just the beginning: learn how to create a herb garden in our guide.
Anna's background is in academic research – she is the author of London Writing of the 1930s, published by Edinburgh University Press. She is a keen urban gardener and has an impressive collection of house plants.
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