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3 Ways to Prevent Basil from Bolting

Focus image on basil flowers on bolted plant

Bolting Basil

Have you ever gone to trim your basil plant to garnish a pasta dish or a cocktail, and found the flavor of the leaves to have changed? Well, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this event, and it’s even something that is preventable!

Your basil plant has bolted, but not to worry. Bolting basil is a very common and natural occurrence. This article is going to go through all of the information you need about why basil bolts, and what you can do as a gardener to prevent it!

Are you curious about growing basil indoors? Click here!

Are you curious about when the perfect time to harvest basil is? Click here!

Are you curious about why your basil plants might be dying? Click here!

What does Bolting Mean?

Bolting is basically the process through which a flowering plant indicates the end of its life cycle. Basil will live either as an annual plant or biennial, wherein it will perish after one or two seasons.

The bolting process is when a plant produces a flowering stem in an attempt to produce seeds. Once the flowering stem starts to develop, it will then produce flowers and then seeds.

Basically, once a basil plant goes to flower, this is the indication that it is the end of its life cycle. The plant will put all of its energy into producing its seed in order to spread.

Because of this divergence of energy away from the leaves and towards the seed, the flavor of the leaves will suffer. In fact, the plant won’t produce any new leaf after it has started to bolt.

The plant will start to grow very tall, the flowering stems will become woody because the seed pods will weight down the plant, and the foliage of the plant will become very bitter.

Love bolted basil flowers in the garden

When Does Basil Bolt?

Basil plants can be kind of funny in terms of their particular nature. Basil tends to bolt when weather gets too cold, but it will also bolt if weather gets too hot.

Store bought basil tends to bolt very quickly once the fall and winter starts to approach, whereas seed grown basil will bolt when the heat of the summer starts coming around.

Long story short, temperature stress is what really causes a basil plant to start its bolting process. Luckily, there are very simple and easy ways to prevent this and to keep those tasty basil leaves coming!

How do you Prevent Basil Bolting?

There are 3 big things that you can do to prevent basil bolting. Though it will require some frequent maintenance from its gardener, the little bit of effort will ensure that they have a constant supply of fresh basil leaves.

Hand plucking away basil leaves on a growing plant

1. Regular Pruning

The first and most effective way to prevent basil from bolting is ensuring that the plant is frequently and appropriately pruned. A plant that is left untrimmed will eventually go to flower. Prune basil!

The best way to do this is to be consistently trimming off the top 2 inches of the stems of the plant. You should remove the top 4 leaves of the plant just with your fingertips.

Harvesting basil is honestly the most effective way to prune it. Simply use those plucked leaves for cooking purposes. Incorporate basil into every recipe and it will continue providing leaves!

If you’re harvesting basil, the best method is by simply removing the top third of the plant. This will also encourage new stems to grow and further branching of the old stems.

2. Avoid Intense Temperatures

As we mentioned before, basil will bolt when temperatures become too hot or too cold. This is why growing basil in a container is a great way to control the conditions the plant is exposed to.

When the heat and long summer days start to approach, it is best to remove the basil from an area that receives full sun exposure into an area that is in partial shade or full shade. Keeping it well watered is another way to reduce heat and sun stress.

Once the cold weather starts to approach, if your plant is growing outdoors, you can always dig it up and transplant it to live indoors. Continue pruning and keeping it in a sunny window, and your basil can last well into the winter!

3. Timed Planting

Another great way to prevent basil from bolting is to be smart about when planting basil. If you plant basil right from seed in the spring or summer, it will prevent it from bolting. Then it can be transplanted indoors once winter comes around.

What do you do After Basil has Bolted?

Wooden cuttingboard with ingredients for making pesto

There are many reasons why a basil plant will be left to bolt accidentally. You go out of town, you have a stressful week, or something else is on your mind! That’s totally okay. Bolting basil is not the end of the world, and there are ways to propagate the basil benefits.

Collecting Seeds

Once a basil has started to bolt, there isn’t all that much you can do to stop it, so let it happen! Once the basil has produced its seed pods, they will fall away where you can then collect them.

Keep your basil seed in a paper bag to keep them in safe condition until you are ready to plant them again in the early spring the following growing season!

This way you can just start out an entire new crop of basil plants, and this time you’ll be fully equipped with all of the information you need to keep their growing season going all year long.

Cook

The other option is to just harvest the crop of basil leaves before they turn bitter and cook a bunch! My personal favorite way to used basil leaves is by making pesto.

The main ingredient in pesto (other than basil) is olive oil. Olive oil is a natural preservative and it’s a great and tasty way to use up all of those basil leaves. And make sure not to toss away that growing flower! Basil flowers are edible and wonderfully delicious.

Gorgeous fresh basil leaves with blooming flowers

FAQs

Is a basil flower edible?

Basil flowers are very tiny and either very light purple or white in color. What not every body knows is that a basil flower is actually completely edible! It basically has a very concentrated flavor of basil and it’s a little bit more spicy.

How long does it take to grow basil?

Growing basil is a pretty fast process if you know how to go about it. Basil seedlings will start to emerge 3-4 weeks after planting, a small basil leaf will start to grow into true leaves shortly after that. Then a flower stalk will emerge after a couple of months (if left untrimmed) where then a flower bud will emerge on the top of the flower stalk.

What are some other things that are good to grow alongside basil?

Grow basil in your herb and vegetable garden. It does a great job of repelling pests and attracting beneficial insects and will protect those leafy green plants very will. It’s great to grow alongside a cilantro plant, bok choy, lettuce, and arugula. Also, growing herbs all together in one area, even as border plants, are a great way to protect vulnerable plants from pests.

What is the best basil variety?

Choosing a basil variety to grow depends on what you want to grow it for. Sweet basil is the most commonly grown basil variety, whereas purple basil is beautiful with a unique fragrance. Holy basil is very popular as a culinary herb as well. There are plenty of options to choose from!

Can you start basil seeds indoors?

Basil seeds will very readily sprout indoors. You can start your seeds indoors in the early spring and they should grow into basil seedlings within a few weeks of planting. Growing herbs can be very simple as long as you have the right soil, right watering habits, and patience!

What are the damaging agents to basil plants?

If you aren’t careful about watering basil, you can cause it some serious damage. If a bunch of water gets on a basil leaf it can become susceptible to downy mildew, since downy mildew propagates in hot and humid settings. Improper watering also causes root stress.