What To Do With Bolted Basil? And How To Keep Basil From Bolting?

Basil has been used for generations in cooking, whether that’s making pesto or topping it on your pizza.

But what do you do when your basil decides it’s time to bolt? Can you do anything about it?

In this article, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of why basil bolts, how to salvage bolted basil, and a few simple strategies to prevent it from happening.

So, let’s get started!

Quick Facts About Basil And Bolting

Key PointsDetails
Scientific NameOcimum basilicum
Growing ConditionsPrefers well-drained soil and ample sunlight.
Sensitivity to StressBolts when stressed by inconsistent watering or temperature changes.
Annual HerbCompletes life cycle in one growing season, leading to faster bolting.
Delay Bolting Delay bolting by pinching off flower buds and regular leaf harvesting.

Why Does Basil Bolt?

Understanding why basil bolts is crucial for any gardener aiming for a bountiful harvest of basil leaves throughout the season.

Before we actually talk about basil, let’s first understand the process of bolting.

In botanical terms, bolting is when a plant shifts its energy from leaf production to flowering and seeding.

Basically, bolting occurs when the plant feels (usually through outside forces causing stress) that it’s time to reproduce (i.e. create seeds).

Typically when basil starts to bolt, it can start to alter the taste of the basil leaves, making them taste more bitter, and less like the basil taste your normally after.

Something you usually don’t want to happen (since most of us are growing it to use the leaves).

There are two main reasons why basil will bolt:

1. High Ground Temperatures

While basil does like getting a good 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, too much heat can cause the plant to start to bolt.

As the outside temperatures warm up, so does everything else, including the ground. This causes the basil’s roots to start stressing.

And when the basil starts stressing, well, it then goes into panic mode and bolts.

2. Inconsistent Watering

While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s a lot more common than realized.

When you’re inconsistent with watering your basil, or don’t provide enough water to it, it will once again become stressed out, and start transferring all of it’s growing power into the flowers and seeds.

So, What Do You Do If Your Basil has started to bolt?

So, your basil has bolted.

Now what? The simple answer is deadheading it.

However, before we actually get into what that actually means, we need to understand that there are multiple stages of bolting.

If you look at the image above, you’ll notice that it has been bolting for a while, and has flowers and seeds being formed.

if your basil is that far gone, the best thing to do is to taste some of the leaves, and see if you still like the flavor.

If you do, then strip the plant of the leaves, and let the plant continue to bolt, and save the seeds for next planting.

(And if you don’t like the taste, just keep the leave on it, and let it continue to produce seeds.)

Now, if your basil look more like the image below, where it’s just started to bolt and produce nubs, then you have a much better chance of extending it’s growing season.

To stop it from bolting, and continue growing leaves, all you need to do is deadhead it. Basically just find the nubs and pick them off.

The process is pretty simple.

First, scan your basil plant for any nubs or flowering stalks. These are the parts that the basil plant is trying to redirect it’s energy into.

If you can spot them early and cut them off, then the basil will continue to send it’s energy into the leaves.

Second, use your fingers, a knife, or a pair of scissors, and snip it as far back to the first set of leaves that show no signs of bolting.

This not only stops the bolting, but also encourages new growth and can keep the plant productive for the rest of the season.

If you’re in a pinch (pun intended), you can just pinch off the flowers, and that stops the process of bolting. I always like to go one step further, and try to also get it to produce new growth, since we’re mainly harvesting the leaves.

Lastly, eat or compost the flowers.

Contrary to popular belief, the nubs and flower stalks can be just as tasty as the leaves. Just taste them before you add them into your salad to make sure you enjoy them.

3 Proven Ways to Prevent Your Basil from Bolting

Preventing something is always better than trying to fix or cure something.

So, how can you keep your basil from bolting in the first place?

1. Keep the soil shaded and/or mulched

One of the easiest ways to keep your basil from going into shock is keeping the temperature of your soil down.

And the best way to do that is, at the beginning, add some mulch (like straw or grass clippings) to the top of your soil, to keep it from drying out from direct sunlight.

Something else you can do is make sure to plant the basil close enough to each other, so that when they grow and bush out, they’ll shade all the soil around them.

2. Keep the Plant Well Watered

Another way to keep basil from bolting is to make sure that you keep it well watered.

One person recommended giving your plants about 1 inch of water per week. That worked for them pretty well.

3. Trim Frequently And Harvest Often

If you can keep the heat or water from affecting the plant, then the only other thing you really need to do is just trim it back and harvest it often.

That will not only encourage the plant to become more bushier (thus making more leaves for you), but also help delay the whole bolting issue.

Enjoy Your Basil!

While the world of bolted basil can be tricky, but it’s far from impossible to manage.

With the right knowledge and a little bit of care, you can easily maintain and even prevent bolting in your basil plants.

How do you keep your basil from bolting? I would love to hear in the comments section below!

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