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Why Is My Basil Growing So Slowly – 2 Reasons

Having a pot of basil growing by your kitchen door or in your garden makes it easy to enjoy this delicious, fragrant herb. Those pictures of a bright green, bushy plant in seed catalogs make it seem like an easy plant to grow. But your plant got leggy and sparse. So you may wonder, why is my basil growing so slowly?

Basil can grow slowly due to an imbalance in fertilizer or too much sunlight. Most basil plants are ready to harvest in 3 – 4 weeks, so it naturally grows fast. However, pruning may also cause plants to grow tall instead of bushy.

Now that you know basil’s needs, you may have other questions. Let’s dive into learning more about why your basil grew slowly and about pruning and harvesting your basil.

Why is My Basil Growing So Tall?

Well-cared-for basil plants will grow big and bushy. They need rich soil with enough nitrogen, lots of sun, and consistent moisture.

Too Much Fertilizer

When growing basil outside in the garden, basil plants can thrive when given fertilizer every six weeks during the growing season. This will help the plant be that full plant that everyone wants.

Basil grown in pots does well with feeding once in the spring and six weeks later.

If you’ve fertilized your basil more than this, it’s too much and can make the basil plant grow too quickly. The plant will become leggy and can flop over. The leaves will have less flavor and fragrance.

An alternative to using fertilizer is compost or well-decomposed manure.

Not Enough Sun

Basil plants will also grow leggy if they don’t get enough direct sunlight. As the plant searches for light, it grows tall and leggy, with yellowish leaves spaced apart on the stem.

Place your basil plants where they will get at least six hours of sun, preferably in the morning. Afternoon shade will prevent the basil from overheating in areas of the country with hot summers.

To help your leggy basil plant, move it or move its pot to a sunny location and start pruning it regularly if it’s in the garden, either transplant it to a sunnier site or put it in a pot so you can move it to a better location.

How Do You Keep Basil from Growing Too Tall?

Besides managing the feeding of your plants and giving them sufficient sunlight, pruning is the best way to encourage your basil plant to grow more leaves and become bushy.

It seems counter-intuitive, but the more you prune and harvest your basil, the bushier it will grow. When you trim a stem, two more will grow in its place.

Start pruning when your plants are at least 6-8 inches tall. Use small pruning shears or scissors to make a clean cut.

Don’t cut the large leaves at the bottom of the plant. These are needed to receive sunlight and provide the plant with nutrients. Instead, trim off the top leaves.

Basil leaves grow in pairs, and there will be a stem growing up in the middle of them. Cut the stem just above those two leaves. Prune about one-third of the plant each time. Do this every two-three weeks.

How Do You Harvest Basil?

Harvesting basil leaves for use in cooking is like pruning, but you’re just cutting the amount you need for the current meal. It’s best to pick the leaves before the hot sun hits the plant in the morning.

You can start picking basil leaves at the same time you begin pruning – when the plant is 6-8 inches tall.

Two or three plants will be plenty for a family of four. If you need a lot of leaves to make pesto, twelve basil plants will provide 4-6 cups per week.

If you pick more than you need, or you have extra after pruning, there are two ways to store them for later. Then you can enjoy the basil from your garden in the winter.

How Do You Save Basil for Later?

You will want to store clean, dry leaves. If you rinse them, make sure they’re dry before continuing.

Freezing basil is easy and preserves the flavor. Just place portions of whole or chopped leaves in a resealable plastic bag and squeeze out all the air before putting them into the freezer.

You can also spread the leaves on a tray, freeze them first, and then put them into a bag or other freezer-safe container. Another way is to blend the basil into a paste and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a plastic bag.

Drying basil is another way to store it for future use. Either layout the leaves in a dry, dark place and leave for a few days until completely dry. You can also take a few stems with leaves and tie them together with string or yarn into a bundle. Hang upside down in a dry, dark place until dry, at most a few weeks.

Should You Let Basil Flower?

The basil plant will last several weeks longer if you keep pruning it rather than letting it flower. When flower buds appear, the plant sends all its energy to the flowers and future seeds. It won’t produce as many new leaves, and the ones on the plant will lose flavor and turn bitter.

If you are growing basil for cooking and don’t want to gather seeds from the plant for later use, you should prune the plant to prevent flowering.

If you want to attract bees to your garden, like the look of the flowers, want to make a small bouquet of them, or even make a tea or eat them, you’ll want to have at least one plant that you stop pruning.

Bees will be attracted to the flowers and enjoy the nectar in them.

Different types of basil have their own-colored flowers, and some people enjoy the plants in the garden with the pretty flowers. You can also pick them for a mini bouquet.

Basil flowers are edible. They taste similar and milder than the leaves. You can toss them on a salad or pasta or make tea with them.

Final Thoughts

Basil is a fast-growing herb that isn’t hard to grow once you know what it needs. Now that you’ve learned that, you can enjoy your home-grown basil in various dishes.

One of the most popular herbs, there are many varieties to explore beyond the common sweet basil. You can enjoy a summer full of this fast-growing, flavorful herb and put some away to use during the cold fall and winter months.