Basil plants turn leggy because of the use of excessive amounts of fertilizer, not enough sunlight, and a lack of regular pruning. Basil requires full sun, fertile soil, and pruning once every two weeks to maintain a bushy appearance with abundant leaves rather than a leggy basil with sparse leaves.
Prune basil when it is more than 8 inches tall. Regular pruning, moist, well-draining, nutrient-rich soil, and planting basil in full sun ensures a healthy productive plant with lots of leaves that are full of flavor and a strong aroma.
Keep reading to learn more about why basil plants turn leggy and the best practices of caring for basil so that they produce more leaves…
Prune Basil Regularly to Prevent a Leggy Appearance
Pruning basil regularly is the easiest way to prevent basil from turning leggy. In fact, pruning basil regularly has many benefits such as:
- By pruning the top of the plant you can harvest leaves for culinary use and allow more light into the lower part of the plant. This results in a more bushy appearance of your basil and increases the number of leaves dramatically rather than a leggy plant with sparse leaves.
- Pruning prevents the basil from flowering and stops the plant from becoming leggy, which is important if you are using the basil leaves for culinary purposes. Basil leaves taste bitter after the plant has flowered and the basil does not produce many more leaves. Pruning regularly encourages new growth of tasty leaves.
- The leaves of regularly pruned basil tend to grow more vigorously and larger so there is a greater harvest from each plant.
When harvesting basil for the leaves, ensure that you pinch or snip the stems as well as the leaves to keep the plant looking tidy and prevent a leggy appearance which can affect growth.
For optimal results prune basil when the stems are around 8 inches tall and try to keep the plant at around that height to ensure a good supply of leaves and to prevent a leggy appearance.
At the height of summer, you should prune basil as regularly as once every two weeks to keep the plant healthy with as many leaves as possible, aiming for a uniform shape when pruning.
Pruning is very easy and can be done with scissors or pruners. Watch this YouTube video for a great visual guide for pruning basil to prevent it from becoming leggy:
For more information read my article Why is my basil flowering?
Leggy Basil Plants Due to Excessive Fertilizer
Basil plants are herbaceous annuals with plenty of delicious leaves when grown in optimal conditions.
Because of their prolific growth in the warmer months of the year, basil requires fertile soil with a good nitrogen content to keep the plant growing healthy.
However, if you have used excessive amounts of fertilizer or applied fertilizer more frequently than once every 6 weeks the basil can grow leggy and droopy or perhaps have a wilting appearance.
(Read my article to learn why basil plants wilt and how to solve it).
Basil does not have a woody stem for structural support but rather s herbaceous flexible stem. With too much fertilizer these stems can become soft, grow excessively, and lose their structural integrity which causes them to flop over with a leggy appearance.
Too much fertilizer can also have an impact on the aroma and taste of the basil leaves, with a weaker flavor and less fragrance.
How to revive it…
Growing basil requires a more balanced approach to fertilizing. For great-tasting basil, the priority should always be good, rich soil that is well-draining.
Loam soil is ideal as it retains the nutrients basil requires in a high quantity (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) and often you do not necessarily need to add fertilizer when basil plants are in good soil.
For basil in pots a multipurpose compost is suitable for growing basil but you can also amend it with alfalfa or well-rotted manure for organic feeding and perhaps feed the basil with an organic fertilizer once at the start of Spring and another application after 6 weeks to ensure lots of leaves.
Alternatively, you can use an all-purpose fertilizer but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when fertilizing basil with a product as too much nitrogen can burn the roots, cause the plant to be leggy and it can be to the detriment of the flavor of the leaves.
Good pruning is key to reviving leggy basil so pinch off or snip the stems once the plant has exceeded 8 inches of growth to remove excessive flopping basil stems so that the plant perks up rather than droops under its own weight.
(To revive drooping or dying basil, read my article, how to revive a dying basil plant).
A lack of Sun Causes Leggy Basil (Plant Basil in Full Sun)
Basil can grow leggy if it is deprived of light. If the basil is planted in an area of limited sun or full shade, the stems of the basil will grow leggy and produce far fewer leaves as it tries to find more light.
The leaves may also look an unhealthy slightly yellow color rather than a bountiful plant with lots of green leaves.
Basil is suited to warm temperatures and full sun (at least 6 hours of sun per day). The more sunlight, the more essential oils, the stronger the aroma of the leaves, and the more pronounced the flavor of the leaves.
Basil is full sun and often requires more watering. Read my article on how often to water basil in different climates for the right balance of moisture.
How to revive leggy basil…
If your basil is planted in a pot or container then the solution is very simple, as you just need to move the pot into an area of full sun and the basil should begin to show signs of recovery.
Again to fully revive a basil plant that has become leggy it is important to prune the stems back which allows light to reach the lower leaves and encourages a more bushy plant rather than a long leggy plant with few leaves.
If your basil is planted in the garden then transplant it to either a sunny part of the garden or plant it in a container so you can move it to a sunny location.
Here’s a YouTube video for transplanting basil easily:
- Basil plants grow leggy because of not enough sun, without consistent pruning, or because of too much fertilizer.
- Ensure basil is in full sun for a more well-developed plant with lots of leaves that have a great flavor and strong aroma.
- Too much fertilizer can cause the plant to grow leggy so only feed basil once every 6 weeks at the most.
- Prune basil regularly to encourage a bushy plant with lots of leaves. Pruning stimulates more growth from the leaves lower down and improves the flavor and aroma of the plant. Prune once every two weeks in the Summer to avoid a leggy basil plant.