Pinching Basil Blooms: Should Basil Be Allowed To Flower
I grow basil every year in a container on my deck, near enough to the kitchen to easily grab a few sprigs to liven up almost any culinary creation. Generally, I use it so frequently that the plant doesn’t get a chance to flower, but every so often I am remiss in its use and, voila, I end up with tiny delicate blooms on basil. The question is then, should basil be allowed to flower and if so, can you eat basil flowers?
Basil Plant Flowering
If your basil plant has flowered, the question of what to do depends on what you are growing the herb for. Basil is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, with over 40 known varieties. Most folks grow it for its aromatic and flavorful foliage, redolent of mint and clove with slight peppery notes.
Although basil is most often associated with the Mediterranean or Italy, the herb actually originated in Asia — Thailand, Vietnam and parts of India — where it is often grown as a perennial. Because of this broad connection, basil can be found in almost every cuisine on the planet.
Among the vast varieties of basil, Ocimum basilicum, or sweet basil, is the most commonly grown. Ocimum is derived from the Greek meaning “to be fragrant” and thus, is evocative of this plant’s delicious foliage. Basil leaves, whether sweet basil or purple, spicy Thai or citrusy lemon basil, all contain essential oils responsible for their unique flavor nuances. The foliage is easily bruised, releasing the magnificent perfume. So then, should basil be allowed to flower?
Blooms on Basil
So, if your basil plant has flowered, is this a good thing or a bad thing? If you are cultivating basil strictly for its leaves, it is best to remove the flowers. Pinching basil blooms back will allow all of the plant’s energy to stay focused on foliage production, creating a bushier plant with more leaves and maintaining higher levels of essential oils in the leaves. Leaving the flowers on basil plants tends to engender a straggly looking specimen with fewer leaves to harvest.
That said, if you have also been remiss in pinching basil blooms, just snip them off and, as they are quite pretty, put them in a bud vase to enjoy on the window sill. Or, you can also sprinkle them on a salad or over pasta to enliven the dish because, yes, basil flowers are edible. They also make great tea! You can expect the blooms to taste similar to the leaves, but with a milder flavor.
If, however, your intent when cultivating basil is for a big batch of pesto, you’ll want to pinch back the herb to encourage leaf growth. Pinch off the flower buds as soon as they emerge. Basil will usually need to be pruned every two to three weeks and it’s okay to go at it. The plant can tolerate a severe pruning which will, in fact, promote growth.
Lastly, fertilize your basil sparingly, as it will actually decrease the fragrant essential oils, and harvest the leaves in the early morning when they are at their peak. Don’t overreact if the plant blossoms — just pinch back the blooms or, better yet, cut back half the foliage. Use both for dinner and the plant will double in size within a couple of weeks, healthier and bushier than before.
Growing Basil: The Complete Guide to Plant, Care, and Harvest BasilCraig Taylor
Craig is a self-sufficiency gardener who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. He has six vegetable gardens, a 7-meter glass house, and 35-tree orchard that provide food for his family. All spray-free. He is a prepper who likes strange plants and experiment with heritage plants to save seeds.
Basil is one of the herbs I’m obsessed with growing well. It has a unique aroma that fills the garden with a fresh, spicy scent that I can’t get enough of, and it lends dishes a subtle peppery flavor in all kinds of cuisines, from Italian to Thai. Like most herbs, it’s also healthy for you.
As if that wasn’t enough to recommend it, growing basil isn’t as challenging as some edible plants. This tropical native is happy to grow outside, inside, in the ground, in pots or even in a hydroponic system. Harvesting is simple, too. You can pluck the leaves when you want to use them, and it will keep sprouting new ones.
In fact, basil is so easy to grow and so useful around the house, I think it’s an essential plant for any garden (or windowsill) to have.
There are dozens of varieties to choose from, each with unique flavors and uses. This guide will help you pick the best for your home and make it thrive.
How Do I Transplant a Basil Plant?
What you will need for repotting
A larger pot
It should boast drainage holes at the bottom end and be at least 5 to 7 centimeters (2 to 2.8 inches) larger than the original container. Ideally, a fully-grown plant reaches the height of 60 to 75 centimeters (23.6 to 27.6 inches) and will need a pot as large as 40 to 50 centimeters (15.7 to 19.7 inches).
Basil plants prefer well-drained soil with a neutral pH. When transplanting basil, make sure that the new mix is similar to the one contained in the first pot to cause less stress to the plant.
A hand shovel
However, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, it is better to hand the delicate roots of seedlings without it!
A step-by-step guide
After you have gathered all of the needed equipment and your seedlings look healthy enough, let’s proceed to transplant them.
- Pick up the new, larger container and sprinkle the bottom of it with the new soil. The potting mix should add up to 2 centimeters from the container’s bottom.
- Gently pick up the original container and place your hands around its sides and bottoms.
- Turn the pot upside down with a slow and steady movement.
- With your hands and fingers, apply pressure to the surfaces of the pot so the plant can slide out.
- Pick up the plant and place it on top of the soil in the new container. The upper surface of the root ball should be about two centimeters below the rim of the vase. If this is not the case, add or remove more soil from underneath it.
- Sprinkle new soil around the plant to close the distance between it and the surrounding pot.
Once your basil plant sits comfortably in the new pot, water them until you notice drops dripping through the drainage holes. Now it is time to move it in the sun, on your windowsill or, if temperatures allow it, outdoors!
Transplanting your basil plant outdoors
You should keep transplanting your basil plant into a larger pot every time it becomes big enough for the roots to lack space. However, as the weather starts to bring warmer temperatures and sunnier days, you can consider transplanting your plant outdoors.
To do so, make sure that the last frost of winter or spring is finally over, as basil plants are susceptible to cold. Then, proceed to harden your plants by leaving them outdoors for hours at a time. Once they are ready for transplant, pick a sheltered area in your garden that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight during each day.
Make Basil Flower Oil
Infuse your favorite olive oil with basil flowers, replenishing with new flowers over time to intensify the flavor:
- Rinse freshly cut basil flowers and pat them dry.
- Drop the flowers (with stems attached) into a clean glass jar. Fill the jar with fresh olive oil to completely cover the flowers. Note: The flowers must remain covered to prevent mold growth.
- Tightly cover the jar and store in a cool, dark place for about one month.
- Remove the flowers and/or strain the oil before use, or you can leave the flowers in the oil, as long as they remain submerged in oil. If desired, add fresh basil flowers to the same oil to strengthen the infusion.
Basil's rich oils and flavors vary considerably between varieties. Growing conditions from soil to weather also affect taste. When growing an old favorite under different conditions or trying something new, flavors may seem bitter compared to past experience. Mediterranean-origin basil tends to be sweet. Other types have spicy, clove-like flavors or even decidedly medicinal tastes. What's bitter to one is desirable to another. Heat, even from food processor blades, affects varieties in different ways and can lend a bitter edge. When cooking, add your basil toward the end so as not to lose delicate flavors.
- UC Davis Good Life Garden: Herb Gardens
- Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Growing Herbs
- UC Davis PostHarvest Technology: Herbs (Fresh Culinary): Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality
- The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses Deni Bown
Jolene Hansen is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and former horticulture professional. She is passionate about reshaping the way people experience gardens and gardening. Hansen's work appears regularly in consumer and trade publications, as well as numerous internet gardening and lifestyle channels.
Wait until the basil starts flowering at around the 2 month point - at that point, it should be ready to harvest. The stems should be woody - not soft and succulent - which is important so that it holds up int eh vase. Make sure to cut the stem as close to the base of the plant as possible - even though it will look like you’re butchering it, it will send up new stems very quickly.
With basil, we always use Quick Dip to hydrate it. Quick Dip is a floral hydrating solution that can be found at your local wholesaler or on Amazon. A little cup or dish of Quick Dip allows us to cut, dip for one second, then plunge into a bucket of cold water. Let the basil rest overnight before arranging with it for maximum results. Having been harvested and conditioned this way, the basil will last quite a while - we’ve even found that it is the last item to go bad in some of our arrangements.
I will admit, we grow our basil a bit on the dry side which I’ve learned does help to prevent it from flopping. Since our basil grows a bit more slowly and compact, it allows the cells to build more lignin - the stuff that makes the stem more woody. And basil should be as woody as possible for maximum vase life.
Make sure that you harvest your basil when flowering, even if you’re not going to use it. Otherwise the flowers will go bad on the stem and it will start producing seed and drop its leaves and it’s no longer any good to use for arranging.
Well, I hope that helped encourage you to give basil a try this year! You really can't go wrong with it - it is so versatile and is just such a productive plant that I would be totally lost without it for summer arranging.
If you’re interested in flower farming and are interested in learning how to grow basil and other cut flowers as a business, check out our eBook series on growing cut flowers for profit and success!