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How to Grow a Bushy Basil Plant

Huge and bushy basil plant being pruned by gardener

Encouraging a Bushy Basil Plant

If you’re growing basil, chances are that it’s going to be for culinary purposes. Basil is one of the most popular and widely used culinary herbs on the plant, and being able to have a fresh one in your house at all times will add a fresh kick to any dish.

Whether you are growing basil indoors or growing basil outdoors, there are some specific things that you can do to help encourage that coveted bushy growth of beautiful, fresh basil leaves. This article is all about growing big bushy basil plants!

We’ve gone through so many different topics when it comes to caring for basil plants, so make sure to learn all of the possible tips and tricks for keeping basil as healthy as possible after this article!

Is your basil plant struggling? Learn all of the reasons behind a dying basil plant here.

Are your basil plants totally thriving? There are specific ways and times to harvest basil properly in this related post.

Basil browning can be confusing, figure out what the causes could be here.

What’s bolting basil you ask? We’ve got all of the answers for you here.

There are tons of ways to protect basil from pests and disease, find out how here in this related article.

Curious about the best way to harvest basil seeds? We’ve got the method here!

Want to know to grow basil from cuttings? Come here!

How do you Use Basil?

A cropped photo of woman about to chop the green basil leaves.

We certainly don’t need to explain why you want a healthy basil plant. The more healthy it is, the more leaves it will produce, and the more yummy ways that you can use those leaves in your kitchen!

Growing basil in the garden is also great for your garden and for the surrounding local wildlife. Basil leaves help to deter unwanted insects and attract beneficial pollinators! Here are a few other things you can do with basil in the kitchen:

  • make pesto!
  • make basil flower vinegar
  • garnish a cocktail
  • garnish a pasta dish
  • make dry basil
  • make Caprese salad

How do you Encourage Bushy Basil?

Expert gardeners will tell you that the best way to encourage the basil to grow, is to use it! The more than you prune basil, the more leaves it will want to grow. The three main ways to encourage bushy growth: pruning basil, fertilizing basil, and removing flowers.

Hands handling basil plant and pruning leaves

Pruning Basil

Pruning basil is important for so many reasons. Not only do you need to prune basil to keep the plant healthy and growing, but you also need to prune basil to prevent it from flowering!

Since basil is an annual plant, once it flowers, this is the indication that it is the end of the plant’s life cycle. Once this happens, the plant will stop using its energy to produce leaves and will avert it towards producing seeds.

So if you’re keen on extending the growing season of your plant, ensure to continuously prune the tops of the stems to dissuade those basil flowers, and to prune the stems to encourage them to branch out.

There is a specific way to prune basil in order to encourage it to branch out. You must wait until the young plant is 4-6 inches tall with at least 4 sets of true leaves.

Using either your fingers or some very tiny scissors, trim just above the uppermost leaf node. The leaf node is the area where the leaf stem meets the main stem of the plant. There you will probably see two tiny leaves growing.

Once the upper leaves are trimmed, the tiny leaves will then continue to grow into two separate and new stems! This is the best way to ensure as many branching stems as possible on your plant. The new branches should have new true leaves ready for harvest in 3-4 weeks.

Watering basil

Fertilizing Basil

Another great way to encourage bushy basil is it to fertilize it! High nitrogen fertilizer is the best one to use when you want to encourage leafy growth.

Different fertilizers have different purposes. Some of them encourage flowering, some of them are good for edible plants, and some of them are designed to help grow leaves.

You can apply 1/3 cup of high nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks. You will be shocked at how quickly new leaves will start to emerge. They will develop into true leaves, ready for harvest in no time.

Removing Flowers

As we mentioned earlier, as an annual plant, once basil flowers it will stop using energy towards developing foliage and will avert it towards producing seed pods.

This process is called bolting. The plant will convert all of its energy its produce seeds and seed pods. In consequence, this will cause the leaves of the plant to become bitter.

That is why it’s very important to prune away a flower bud before it can develop any further. If you happen to miss the opportunity to prune the flower bud, just make sure to harvest all of the leaves that you can. Then you can just let the plant go to seed, and then you can harvest the seeds to propagate new plants.

What are some Ways to Store Basil?

Bundles of basil leaves hanging upside down

With all of the new growth coming in from your wonderfully bushy basil plant, chances are that you have more fresh basil leaves than you know what to do with. You can only garnish so many pasta dishes right off the plant, so you’ll have to think of ways to preserve the leaves in other ways.

Pesto

Pesto is delicious as you know, but did you know that it also kind of naturally preserves itself? Olive oil is a natural preservative and one of the main components of pesto is olive oil, along with parmesan, pine nuts, and tons of garlic.

If you make pesto you’ll be able to keep it open in the fridge for 3-4 weeks before it starts to spoil. If you keep it tightly held in a sealed mason jar, it can last until you decide to open it.

Dry Basil

Dried basil is another superb way to store basil. Though dried basil tends to have less of that classic flavor and it’s less aromatic (which is often the case when it comes to drying herbs) it will essentially last forever in your pantry.

When you harvest basil leaves, simply let them lay out to dry in an area that is warm and well aerated. After a few days of drying they can then be crushed up and stored in a small jar.

Cool Storage

Another option is to just try and extend the life of your fresh basil leaves. The best way to do this is to store fresh basil in the fridge in a dry container.

All you have to do is line both the top and bottom of a container in order to absorb any extra moisture that may be trapped inside it. This will delay and leaf browning that may occur.

This is an amazing method that you can use for all your leafy greens – not just to store fresh basil – to extend their shelf life! If you don’t want to create waste, you can also use a clean hand towel and replace it every few days to achieve the same thing.

What are some Popular Types of Basil?

Green basil and purple basil growing in rows in the garden

Ocimum basilicum, or common basil, is the main species of basil from which many cultivars and varieties are derived from.

Sweet Basil – sweet basil is the main variety of basil, Ocimum basilicum. This is the variety that you will probably see in the grocery store. It’s a great herb to use for its fresh leaves. Sweet basil will usually grow to be around 8-20 inches tall and has that classic sweet and spicy flavor to it.

Lemon Basil – lemon basil is also known as Thai basil and it is a commonly used herb in a lot of Asian cuisines it is loved for its unique kick of citrus.

Lemon basil can be identified by its leaves that are still green but tend to be more narrow with serrated margins. It is mostly used as a fresh garnish.

Genovese Basil – Genovese basil is the type of basil you should get if you’re looking for a ton of leaf production. These are vigorous growers that can grow to be over 3 feet tall and for this, they’ve been nicknamed “bush basil”.

Genovese basil also has big leaves with some extending to over 3 inches in length. They have more of a sweet than spicy flavor and are often used to make pesto and Caprese salad.

Purple Basil – purple basil is a gorgeous herb that is commonly used fresh because of its beautiful color. It has narrow and serrated purple leaves that have that classic basil flavor to them.

Lovely and healthy basil plant producing small flower buds

FAQs

Where is the best place to grow basil in the garden?

The best place to grow basil in the garden is rather specific. The amount of sun exposure the plant receives will depend on the average temperature of the warmest months.

If it is particularly hot, the basil plants will prefer to receive morning sun but partial shade in the afternoon. If it is milder, they can handle the all-day sun.

It is also important that your basil plants are growing in soil that is very well-draining and high in nutrients. You can encourage drainage and fertility by amending it with compost and sand.

Can you start basil cuttings indoors?

There are two main ways you can start basil cuttings, and this can be done either indoors or outdoors. You can start the basil cuttings in a cup of clean water or in some potting soil. Then you can make the decision to transplant them into a new pot and keep it indoors or outdoors.

What is the best way to keep basil seedlings happy?

Basil seedlings tend to be a little bit sensitive! They are sensitive to both temperature changes and to moisture levels. The seedlings will be happiest if you can maintain soil moisture as well as humidity (by consistent watering and misting).

You should also make sure that the basil seedlings aren’t in an area that experiences too much draft or drastic changes in temperature as they are sensitive to this. Mature plants will be less sensitive.

What are some tricks to keep basil happy?

The main way to keep basil happy is to keep the soil moist. Moist soil is essential to the health of basil. It is also important that they receive the right amount of sun exposure, and regular fertilizing, and that they aren’t exposed to sudden drops or increases in temperature.

When is the best time of year to prune basil plants?

All year is the best time of year to prune basil plants. It is important to prune basil plants to keep them happy and growing, to encourage bush basil, and to prevent it from flowering.

What time of year can you plant basil outdoors?

It is important to wait to plant basil outdoors until the last threat of frost has passed. Basil is very sensitive to cold temperatures and it will not survive if it is exposed to frost before it is well established.

What are some issues that basil plants face?

The main issue that you will come across with basil is proper watering. If you don’t water them properly, basil plants can very quickly develop downy mildew or root rot. Well-draining soil will help discourage root rot from developing (since they don’t like soggy soil). You can discourage downy mildew by making sure leaves are well aerated and aren’t left with a bunch of water droplets on the leaves.