You walk out to your garden one morning and notice little purple blooms popping up atop your basil plant. Basil flowering is a common occurrence as the plant completes its life cycle. While the flowers are certainly pretty, most cooks prefer to use basil for its flavorful leaves. So what should you do when your basil goes to flower? Here are some tips.
Why Do Basil Plants Flower?
Flowering is simply part of the natural maturation process of basil. Typically, flowering occurs when basil has been growing for several months.
The triggers that initiate flowering can include:
- Long daylight hours – Once days reach 12-14 hours long, chemical changes occur within the plant that stimulate flower production. This is why flowering commonly occurs in mid to late summer.
- Temperature fluctuations – Shifts between warm days and cooler nights can signal to the plant it’s time to complete its life cycle by flowering and producing seed.
- Mature plant size – Most basil varieties are annuals that go to flower once the plant reaches its full mature size, usually around 15-24 inches tall.
- Rootbound conditions – When roots completely fill out their container or space in the garden, lack of room for growth can cause the plant to channel its energy into flowering.
So in most cases, flowering is a natural result of basil aging and the changing seasons. It doesn’t necessarily indicate any problems with your care.
Should I Remove the Flowers?
Many gardeners pinch off the flower stems to encourage more leaf growth. Removing flowers tells the plant to keep focusing energy on foliage production rather than diverting energy into seed production.
However, allowing a few blooms to remain can be beneficial. The flowers:
- Attract pollinators – Bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects utilize basil blossoms for nectar. This supports the pollinator population in your garden!
- Provide seeds – If you collect seeds from spent flowers, you can save them to plant basil again next year.
- Add visual interest – The blooms add nice pops of color and visual appeal to your herb garden.
So it’s best to adopt a balanced approach – pinch off most flowering stems but leave a few blooms intact if desired.
How to Remove Flowers
When you see flower spikes emerge, simply use pruners or your fingers to snip the stalk right below the flower buds. Make cuts at an angle to prevent water from collecting on the cut tip.
Check plants daily for new flower spikes. It’s easiest to remove them when just newly formed.
Repeat this quick pruning regularly to guide the plant to keep producing foliage. Don’t remove more than one third of the plant’s total growth at a time to avoid stressing it.
Caring for a Flowering Basil Plant
Adjust your care routine as needed once basil begins budding:
- Harvest more frequently – With the plant’s energy now divided between leaves and flowers, frequent harvesting reminds it to keep generating new leaves.
- Hold off fertilizing – Fertilizing can accelerate flowering. Avoid feeding plants once they start budding.
- Monitor water carefully – Drought stress could worsen flowering. Stick to weekly deep watering unless soil stays very moist.
- Watch for bolting – Fast upward growth indicates bolting, when flavor declines. Harvest remaining leaves and pull plants.
- Scout for pests and disease – Flowers may attract aphids. Inspect closely and treat any issues promptly to keep plants healthy.
- Plan to replant – Basil is frost-sensitive, so flowering is a sign cooler weather is approaching. Start seeds or buy transplants to replace fading plants.
With a few adjustments, you can continue harvesting leaves from flowering basil through the end of the season.
Using Flowering Basil
Once basil begins flowering, the leaves often change flavor, becoming bitter or metallic tasting due to chemical shifts in the plant. The flowers themselves have mild basil flavor.
Here are some ways to use up a flowering basil plant:
- Remove any remaining non-flowering shoots to use fresh.
- Harvest flowers and buds. They add visual appeal and basil flavor to dishes.
- Make basil-infused vinegar using stems, leaves, and flowers. The vinegar extracts the flavors.
- Dry leaves and flowers to use in teas, extracts, or potpourri.
- Pull plants once most leaves decline in flavor. Till back into soil to decompose.
While flowering indicates basil’s days are numbered, you can still find uses for the buds and remaining leaves.
Saving Basil Seeds from Flowers
One bonus of letting your plant flower is collecting seeds! Here’s how:
- Identify flowers that are fully mature and dry out. Seeds develop once flowers fade.
- Clip off the entire flower stalk once the lower flowers brown and drop petals.
- Place stalks upside down in a paper bag and hang for 1-2 weeks until completely dry.
- Crush open dried flowers and separate seeds to store in an airtight container.
- Label seeds with variety and date. Use within 1-3 years.
Saving seeds allows you to replant the same basil variety in future seasons!
Troubleshooting Tips for Flowering Basil
If your basil plant seems to flower much earlier than expected, a few issues could be the cause:
- Insufficient sunlight – Plants lacking adequate sun exposure may bolt quickly. Move to a sunnier site.
- Overfertilization – Too much nitrogen fertilizer can accelerate flowering. Avoid overfeeding.
- Shock from transplanting – Young plants started indoors flower if not hardened off gradually.
- Weather fluctuations – Rapid shifts between warm and cool periods can confuse plants and jumpstart flowering.
- Water stress – Both under and overwatering can spur early budding in response to stress. Stick to a consistent weekly watering schedule.
With proper site selection, plant care, and weather conditions, your basil should thrive for months before flowering.
Enjoying Basil Despite the Flowers
When given the proper care, many basil varieties will produce tasty leaves all season long without bolting quickly. But occasional flowering is inevitable. Just snip away those flower spikes as they form to keep foliage production going strong. Then sit back and watch the pollinators enjoy the blooms!
With the right troubleshooting, your basil plant can continue providing delicious leaves into the autumn months. Before you know it, it will be time to plant basil again next spring and start the growing cycle anew!