Basil help!

kissingfrogs2003October 4, 2011

I am having trouble with my basil after several attempts in several locations and states. I've finally discovered the problem may be me, so thought I�d turn to the experts :)

I am just not sure when to start pinching leaves! I have a big problem with my basil getting taller but not wider AND turning woody and flowering. I have new seedlings with just one set of leaves so I want to start this batch out right! How many leaves should there be before I pinch AND do I pinch from tops/side/where?!?!

Here are some pics of various basil attempts to give an idea of what I am talking about. (note: all these containers now have just one plant in each after getting feedback in another forum about them being too crowded)

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

When the seedling gets 3 pairs of leaves, pinch it back to 2 leaves (1 set). You'll get two branches from this set of leaves - when these two branches EACH get 3 pairs of leaves, pinch each back to 2 leaves as well. You'll get 4 branches you can pinch back to 2 sets of leaves when they get 3 pairs which will give you 8, then 16, 32, 64 ...

This MAXIMIZES bushyness & curtails legginess. Realistically, after the plant grows a little, you'll want to pinch in 'areas'. IOW, you'll want to pinch back maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of the plant one day. Several days to a week later, you'll pinch another part, and then another part. This keeps the plant from blooming and keeps the leaves tender & full of aromatic oils that give the best flavor.

I couldn't help but notice your soil looks very water-retentive. Basil appreciates a very fast draining soil - doesn't like wet feet at all.

Good luck!!


    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 5:47PM
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do you pinch from the top (ie newest set of two leaves) or the bottom?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2011 at 3:11PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Listen up - this is important. It's the basis for all pruning & what determines how the plant reacts. ;-) I'll try to make it as easy to understand as I can, but if you DON'T understand - don't be bashful - ask .... because you can bet there are others who don't fully understand this, making any questions you have helpful across the board.

The growth hormone that stops the plant from getting bushy (and prevents side branches from growing) is produced in the very tip of each branch. If you pinch off that tip (called the apical meristem), another growth hormone 'takes over' and makes new branches grow in some or all crotches of the leaves still left on the branch you pinched (so you can see you pinch back from the top or ends of branches), depending on how many leaves you left and how much energy the plant has stored.

Letting the branch grow until it has several sets of leaves before you pinch back to 2 leaves insures the branch won't die back. Continually pinching back to two leaves that are closest to the trunk will yield a bushy plant with small leaves that are nice & tender & rich in the volatile oils that make basil tasty. It also prevents the plant from blooming which detracts from basil's flavor.


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   October 10, 2011 at 11:08PM
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Ok, so if I am understanding correctly I should be pinching in one of the following places (ie cutting off the newer growth)...

That is good to know...i was pinching off leaf pairs and not @ the wonder I was having such trouble!!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 11:31AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes, you have it. Snip off the stem somewhere above a healthy leaf pair. A branch will grow from the crotch of each leaf, and possibly from other leaves or former leaf locations below the pair above which you pruned. When those newly forming branches get 3-4 pairs of leaves, prune back to only 1 pair.


    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 3:48PM
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At this time of year, your basil may not be growing much longer. You might want to move it indoors when the temperature gets toward freezing. Other than not being really bushy, your plants look healthy.

Here is a link that might be useful: What's Growing On?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 8:03PM
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