Leggy Basil Plants: How to stop basil going leggy

Leggy basil plants will have long stems that flop over and the plant will struggle to grow well. Basil seedlings can go leggy if they are not getting enough light. Older basil plants can go leggy if they are not trimmed regularly. Stop basil from going leggy by pinching off the top 4 leaves and encourage it to grow bushy.

This article will explore why basil plants go leggy, how you can fix this problem and how to prevent it. Basil is easy to grow if you follow some easy steps.

This long basil plant needs to be pruned to take this growing flower head off to keep it bushy.

What do leggy basil seedlings look like?

Leggy basil seedlings will have long stems with 2-4 leaves at the top. The leaves will stretch up to reach for the light lengthening the stems. Eventually when the stems get too long the heavy leaves will bend the stems over and the plant will start to grow over on an angle.

This will make it difficult of the plant to reach up to the light and photosynthesize. The leaves will struggle to get enough light as it can get stuck growing on an angle.

My new basil seedlings are ready to be planted out in a sunny position to stop them from going leggy.

Why basil seedlings go leggy

Basil seedlings will go leggy if they are not getting enough light. Basil seedlings raised in full shade will stretch out to try to get more light sending up along stem. The stems of basil grown in shade are not strong enough to hold up heavy leaves so will bend over after a period of time.

Basil seedlings that are not yet established and have delicate stems can bend over when they are watered or when there is a lot of rain. I always try to water my new seedlings on the soil rather than on the leaves as this can help them to stay up straight.

These basil plants are ready to be planted out before they get too long and leggy.

Why basil plants go leggy

Basil plants can also go leggy after they have been established. This can happen after the plant has been growing for a period of time in deep shade or if they have been left untrimmed. A bail plant that is not pruned will continue to grow up higher and longer reaching up and potentially bending over.

Basil plants can get heavy when they grow lots of leaves, reaching up higher and bending over particularly when they get wet with rain. Untrimmed basil plants will stretch up higher, eventually growing a flower on the end of the plant.

These basil plants are growing flowers but trimming them back will keep them shorter, bushier and sweeter.

How to stop basil seedling from going leggy

Here are my top ways to stop basil seedlings from going leggy at home.


To prevent basil seedlings from going leggy sunlight is key. Although young seedlings need to be protected from harsh, hot afternoons they will benefit from a bright spot and morning sunlight. This will encourage the plant to start to grow leaves rather than sending up a long stem.

Basil seedlings bought from a nursery can be planted out in a bright spot straight away in spring. The weather will be mild and it will give the basil a chance to establish roots before the weather gets too warm.

Water new basil seedlings everyday for the first few days to settle them in. They will then be ready to grow new leaves. Once the plants have added new sets of leaves they can be trimmed to keep them dense. For smaller plants the top 2 leaves can be pinched off leaving sets of 4-6 leaves below.  


Keeping basil seedling pruned regularly will keep them growing smaller and busher. Small seedlings can have the top leaves pinched off and they can be used in salads, pasta or on top of pizza.

Basil grows quickly in the warmer months with lots of water and good quality soil. A liquid feed of nitrogen fertilizer will help them to add leaves quickly after pruning.

Planting out my new basil seedlings in bright sunlight.

How to stop established basil plants from going leggy

The key to stopping a larger basil plant from growing long stems and growing leggy is regular pruning. This can be done by using sharp secateurs or hedge shears and trimming off the top of the plants. You only need to take off around 1-2 inches each time.

In the peak growing season in spring and summer this can be done every 2-3 weeks to keep the basil plants growing bushy and dense. You can trim it down harder, taking the leaves to make pesto and removing up to 1/3 of the length of the stems.

When the plant grows back it will send up multiple stems from the point that you cut the plant off. This will give you a dense bushy coverage of basil that will prevent it from growing long and leggy.

Trimming the basil regularly will prevent it from growing flowers which will keep the plant sweeter and the leaves and stems tender. Once the plant starts to flower the basil leaves can turn bitter so it is better to keep the plant well trimmed and dense.

Leggy Basil Plants: Summary

Basil plants can grow long, leggy and bend over if they are not getting enough light. Once basil plants have grown bigger they can be pruned to keep them growing dense and bushy removing the top 2-4 leaves. This will encourage the plant to send up new stems and stay dense and bushy.

Basil plants can also be harvested by removing the top 1/3 of the plant or the top 3-4 inches on a larger plant. The plant will replace these leaves quickly. Grow a large crop of basil in between your tomato and chili plants and they will help to shade the soil and act like a living mulch.

Bail are one of my favorite herbs to grow over summer and are easy to are for if they are trimmed regularly. Keep them well watered, mulch them with straw and trim them before they flower to keep them growing sweet tender leaves for your kitchen.