How to prune basil for the bushiest plant in your herb garden

This is the expert-approved guide to pruning your basil plant without damaging it

Herb plants grown in reused tin cans
(Image credit: Future PLC/Nick Pope)

Basil is known as one of the best herbs to cook with, imparting its beautiful flavour and aroma into every dish. It’s also one of the nation’s most popular herbs to grow - and don’t even ask the Italians, basil rules over there. But in order to enjoy the biggest and most flavourful leaves and the bushiest plant, you need to know how to prune basil.

Whether you’re growing basil from shop-bought or from seeds, pruning will help the plant thrive in more ways than one, however surprising that may be as we often think of pruning as something done on large plants or trees.

But our gardening pros proved us wrong as basil is best to be pruned on a regular basis. And they’ve shared everything you need to know about doing the correct way without damaging your basil and avoiding any herb garden mistakes.

Three potted basil plants on a kitchen worktop

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

How to prune basil

Basil is at the centre of any herb garden idea. So why not ensure that it’s in the best possible shape it can be?

‘If you want the best flavour, you’ll need to prune a basil plant regularly and very often,’ says Petar Ivanov, gardening expert at Fantastic Gardeners. ‘This is actually one of the key things for getting a big and bushy basil plant.’

Petar Ivanov portrait
Petar Ivanov

Petar Ivanov is one of the company's top-performing experts and manages over six teams of gardeners, delivering stunning landscape results and fostering a deep connection with nature through his work.

John Clifford, gardening expert at Gardenstone, adds, ‘Pruning your basil can offer you double the amount of leaves that you'd normally get on your basil plant. Obviously, leaves are what you want when it comes to basil, and the more leaves the better. Although you don't have to prune it, it is worth it!’

And this is everything you need to be equipped with – and in all honesty, it’s not much.

John Clifford
John Clifford

John Clifford is a director of Gardenstone, a leading garden landscaping retailer based in the UK. With over 30 years in the gardening industry and continual work alongside The National Trust, John has amassed an extensive range of gardening and planting knowledge. Alongside his younger son, John has built a strong reputation for Gardenstone as a trusted source for both high-quality garden products and expert gardening advice. 

Herb plants grown in reused tin cans

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

What you’ll need

Basil pruning guide

The first major tip is to always take away from the top rather than the bottom.

‘Always leave the big leaves at the bottom of the plant, and prune the top leaves only. This is because if you trim the leaves at the top, it'll help the plant grow new branches outwards rather than upwards, meaning it grows wide and bushy instead of tall,’ John says.

Petar continues, ‘When you’re pruning a basil plant, you’ll need to insect it well and cut central stems just back to a lower set of newly emerging leaf buds, which should be easy to spot. After that, cut the stem around half a centimetre above these buds.’

In terms of the amount you should cut back, taking 2 centimetres from the top should be sufficient as this process should be repeated fairly often.

Herb plants grown in pots hung on a wall rail

(Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd Davies)

‘Prune back about 2 centimetres of plant, making sure to only take from the top. I wouldn't prune your Basil plant back by any more than 1/3 of the size of the plant. And you should prune Basil every 1 or 2 weeks, depending on how quickly it's growing,’ John recommends.

Petar adds one more tip about how to harvest basil, ‘When you’re harvesting from your basil plant, don’t simply pluck out individual leaves because it won’t promote new growth. When you’re pruning a basil plant, you’ll need to remove bigger top sections of the plant’s stems.’

A potted basil plant on a kitchen worktop

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Parmiter)

FAQS

When should you prune basil?

You should start pruning your basil plant fairly early on, as soon as it’s at least 15 centimetres tall.

‘When your Basil plant gets to around 15cm tall, it's a good idea to prune it back to encourage bushier growth instead of leggy growth,’ says John Clifford, gardening expert at Gardenstone.

Petar Ivanov, Fantastic Gardeners’ gardening expert, confirms, ‘It’s also important to start pruning early, right after planting or transplanting it, when the plant is already between 15 to 20 centimetres tall. Cut them back just above the bottom set of leaves. This may seem drastic, but it actually encourages a lot of new growth and it doesn’t really matter if you’re growing it in containers or directly in the ground.’

Three potted herb plants on a kitchen worktop with a mosaic splashback

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

What happens if you don't prune basil?

There are several undesired things that will happen to your basil if you don’t prune it regularly.

‘If you don't prune basil, the plant can become tall and spindly with fewer leaves,’ says John Clifford, gardening expert at Gardenstone. Not to mention the leaves are likely to decrease in size.

‘Eventually, all basil plants produce flowers if they aren’t pruned and this is one of the major drawbacks because it slows down vegetative growth and the leaves lose their flavour,’ adds Petar Ivanov, gardening expert at Fantastic Gardeners. ‘Despite that, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can attract bees and other pollinators to your garden.’

The bottom line is, prune your basil.

And now you’re fully equipped to tackle your basil’s pruning and be the proud owner of the bushiest basil plant in your friend group.

News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home decor and interiors, as well as trend-led pieces, shopping round-ups and more. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors, working with the likes of 91 Magazine and copywriting for luxury bed linen brand Yves Delorme among others. She feels that fashion and interiors are intrinsically connected – if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.