Cutting Basil

Washington, DC(Zone 6b)

I have not cut back my basil plants as often as they could have been. They became a little woody, but were still great for two or three handfuls of leaves for making pesto or a salad. My question is how to cut it back after it gets woody stems. A neighbor cut it all the way back while I was away. I know that it comes back (she did the same thing last year) but it seams harsh. What should I tell her? She thinks what she did was a good thing. I'm not so sure.

This message was edited Jul 14, 2010 7:34 AM

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

If you basil returns every year, it must be coming back from seed. If I am not mistaken (it would not be the first time) basil is an annual. When it was cut back, were there some leaves left?

Not sure how to handle the neighbor issue ~ perhaps an attempt to educate in the correct manner of pruning would be good. Or if there are some type of gardening classes, invite her to attend with you. Then you could ask the instructor some pointed questions to further the neighbors' education.

Belton, TX

Basil is an annual and can get very woody...often with age...I often cut my plants down to 6" from soil line in mid mid July, I have tons of new healthy leaves for harvesting...and this seems to retard the natural instinct for the basil to flower...

Washington, DC(Zone 6b)

Thank you both for responding. It has been very helpful. You would think it instinctive to keep cutting back the basil. lol Pruning is such a hard concept, somehow counterintuitive, for me anyway.

Belton, TX

Of course it is!...we spend sooo much time growing, tending and nurturing that it just seems Wrong to chop it matter how good the purpose...ah, but I can go against the grain anyday for pesto!!!...

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

Hmmm - I had a basil that I kept growing for a few years when I lived in Phoenix; I think it's a tender (very) perennial.

Belton, TX

It is nice to know that the stars aligned to keep your basil going that long...I have been able to keep it going through pot culture and bringing it into shelter...but as it gets woodier and older, the scent is diminished greatly...

Washington, DC(Zone 6b)

Mine are in pots on the roof. One of the reasons I list myself as living in zone 6b is the exposed roof environment during the winter.

Probably a lot of what we call annuals are tender perennials. There is a great deal of debate as to whether or not Basil is a perennial or an annual. Many varieties will live for years in a pot getting bigger, thicker and gnarlier every year. Well, if you don't have a helpful neighbor like mine. In my situation, because of climate and space limitations, I choose to discard them at the end of each growing season. Small-leafed varieties such as Bush or Greek Basil seem more tolerant of harsh conditions, but I am a fan of Genovese.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Glad to hear that on small leaf varieties. This is my first year growing Pistou and I love it! I shall try to overwinter it in this zone.

Stratford, TX(Zone 6b)

I find that pinching the plant's stems back a couple bracts (correct term?) further than you would if you were just harvesting, and then keeping the top parts for the spice, and then simply sticking the remaining stem in dirt and they root very easily...almost reminds me of coleus in the easy rooting.

Then, as the old plants get woody, I discard them, making sure to cut and root any non-woody parts. This way you can over-winter a plant, and if they start getting woody, simply re-root them and discard until you are ready to plant again the next year. I just love the aroma of basil in the garden!

I wish sage and rosemary rooted as easily as the basil!

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Hi Sheryl! I have Basil that survives more than one season here too. As long as it doesn't freeze it keeps going. If I keep it pruned nicely it is easier to cover if needed in the winter;o)


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