There are a couple of tricks to make your basil plant live for longer, but can you make it live forever? I have done some research and found the answer for you.
Basil plants cannot live forever. Most basil plants are annuals, meaning they only live for one year, but some can live for several years. It is possible to extend a basil plant’s life by pruning and harvesting leaves often and removing flowers as soon as they appear, but the plant will still die eventually.
Below, I have written a detailed explanation of how you can make your basil plants live for as long as possible by removing flowers the right way and giving the plants the best conditions. I have also included a list of some perennial basil varieties that can live for multiple years in case you are interested in growing the longest-lived basil plant you can.
The Lifespan of a Basil Plant
You can extend a basil plant’s life by delaying the flowering process. You do this simply by removing the flowers as soon as they appear. I explain precisely how you do this later in this post, after the following headline.
But for how long can you extend a basil plant’s life? Is it possible to make a basil plant live forever?
Basil plants’ lifespan can be extended (although not indefinitely) by removing all flowers as soon as they appear. Most basil plants will die within one year, but some are perennials that can live for multiple years. All basil plants will die eventually, no matter what you do.
Pruning is another great way to extend the period where basil grows and produces leaves instead of flowers. I have a guide on how to prune basil on this link.
The reason why you should remove the flowers when your basil plant is flowering is that flowering is the first step in the production of seeds, and once the plant is done with producing seeds, it will begin to get dry and eventually die.
Annual basil varieties (such as the very common sweet basil) go through this process one time and then die, all within the same year. Perennial basil varieties typically go through this process 3-4 years in a row before they get dry and die.
To sum this part up, no basil plant can live forever, but there are several things you can do to extend its life.
Below, I explain what you can do to make your basil plants live much longer than they otherwise would.
How to Make Basil Plants Live Longer (8 Tips)
Generally speaking, basil plants usually only have about a month or two of really good and efficient production before they begin to flower. When that happens, the energy is diverted towards flowering rather than towards growing and producing new leaves, and after some time, the existing leaves will begin to taste bitter and not really be suited for cooking any longer.
Therefore, most of us are interested in extending the growing season for as long as possible so that we can harvest as many of the delicious leaves as possible.
Luckily, it is really easy to make basil plants live longer than they otherwise would.
The best way to make a basil plant live longer is to keep an eye out for flowers and remove them as soon as they appear.
Removing flowers is the number one thing you can do to delay the flowering, but there are more things you can do to make a basil plant live longer.
Follow these tips to make your basil plant live for as long as possible.
- Cut stems and not just leaves when harvesting.
- Harvest at least every week (even if you don’t need it).
- Remove flowers as soon as they appear.
- Give your plant 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Grow your basil in well-drained soil.
- Keep the soil moist and never dry or soaked.
- Water from the bottom to promote root growth.
- Take cuttings and root them in water to grow as new plants.
How you harvest your basil matters a lot when it comes to keeping it alive for a long time. If you harvest the wrong way, there will be fewer and fewer leaves to harvest, but if you do it the right way, your plant will produce more and more leaves the more you harvest. Read more about how to make that happen here.
When you remove the flowers from your basil, I recommend pinching or cutting the stem the flower is on at a slightly lower point (a few inches below the flower) instead of only removing the flower itself. This will make the plant bushier.
It is important to mention that removing basil flowers is not the right thing to do for everyone. If you want to attract bees to your garden or collect seeds, you should let your basil flower, but if you want to be able to harvest as many leaves as possible, you should definitely remove the flowers. I have written another post to help you determine if you should remove the flowers or not, which you can find here.
Basil flowers usually begin to appear in the warmest weeks of summer, after growing for a couple of months. My basil plants usually start to flower around July or August.
A good way to keep basil alive is to take cuttings and root them in water, and then grow them as new plants. I have a guide for that here.
I wasn’t sure if I should include that tip here since it is technically not the same as keeping a plant alive for longer, but it is such a good way to increase your production for free, so I really recommend trying it.
If you forget to remove the flowers or your basil plant is already flowering, you can also just let it go to seed and collect the seeds from it to be able to grow a bunch of new basil plants.
As mentioned, most basil plants live for just one year, but some can actually live for multiple years. I come with some examples of multi-year (perennial) basil plants below.
3 Basil Varieties That Live for Multiple Years (Perennials)
Most basil varieties are usually grown as annuals, meaning they are sown, grow, flower, and die within one year, but some basil varieties are perennials that can live for multiple years.
The vast majority of us (myself included) can only grow basil as annuals because of the climate where we live. This is mainly because it gets too cold in the winter for basil to survive.
But for those of you that live in warmer areas that never experience frost, some basil varieties can actually be grown as perennials and last for a couple of years. You can read more about that in the article on this link where I also share a method for keeping perennial basil plants alive through the winter even if there is frost.
Here are some popular basil varieties that can be grown as perennials in warm areas:
- Thai basil
- Lemon basil
- Greek basil
The temperature and amount of sunlight are crucial for growing basil as perennials, but it is also essential to grow the right variety since many varieties can only be grown as annuals regardless of the weather. Sweet basil is perhaps the most common and popular variety and an example of one that can only be grown as an annual. I have another article on this link where I compare 22 basil varieties.
Can Basil Plants Survive All Year Where You Live?
A question I have very often seen online is whether or not basil can survive all year in different parts of the world, so I decided to include it in this post.
In most parts of the world, basil plants cannot survive all year as it gets too cold in the winter. However, in areas that never experience any frost, certain basil varieties, such as thai basil, lemon basil, and greek basil, can be grown as perennials that usually last for abound 3-4 years.
Unfortunately, all basil plants eventually die no matter where you live, so below, I explain what I recommend that you do once your basil plants begin to die or they are too far in the flowering process to stop it.
What to Do With a Flowering Basil That Is Beginning to Dry
If you’re fast enough, you can remove the flowers from a basil plant to delay the flowering and seeding process and extend the growing season.
But if your plant is too far along in the flowering process, it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to delay it since the leaves will most likely be bitter and not really work well in cooking any longer.
So what should you do with a basil plant that is too far in the flowering process or even beginning to get dry? Here is my recommendation.
When a basil plant has been flowering for too long, and the leaves no longer taste good, the best thing you can do is to just let it flower. Other than being aesthetically pleasing, it allows you to collect seeds at a later time, and until then, the flowers will attract bees to your garden, which is good for pollination.
Of course, you can keep removing the flowers for as long as you want, but eventually, the plant will begin to dry out and die no matter how much you prune it or how well you take care of it. So this way, you at least get some seeds so you can grow more basil for free.
I explain more about this and what else you should do with your basil plants at the end of the season in the article on this link.
Read My Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Basil
I have written a thorough guide where I cover all parts of growing your own basil including choosing a variety, sowing the seeds, the best growing conditions, pruning, propagation, harvesting, storing, solving various problems, and a lot more. You can find the article on this link.