Why is My Basil Flowering? [Answers & Next Steps]

Usually we welcome flowers in the garden with arms wide open. We’ll stop, admire and may even give them a little sniff. But when basil plants flower, it’s the complete opposite. We experience feelings of despair and disappointment, maybe even a bit of frustration.

credit: giphy

The reason why we panic when seeing basil flowers, is because it indicates that the basil plant has progressed into the next phase of its life cycle, reproduction. This is when the plant will divert its energy into producing flowers and seeds, and stops producing those delicious leaves we enjoy so much in salads and on pizzas.

What Happens when Basil Flowers

Welcome to the Garden Bench Top, where we will be exploring the events that surround a flowering basil plant. We will be exploring:

  • what triggers basil plants to flower,
  • ways to delay your basil from flowering, and
  • situations where you may want to encourage your basil to flower.

So quickly finish off that Caprese salad, because we have some learning to do.

What Happens When Basil Flowers? And Why?

Basil is a popular annual edible herb known for its distinct flavors and wonderful fragrance. Many cultures use the leaves in salads, sauces and even in oil infusions. We personally like to use it as a fresh ingredient in David Lebovitz’s pesto recipe – we highly recommend it. It’s so easy and so delicious!

Fresh Basil Makes Wonderful Pesto

The problem lies in the fleeting existence of basil. It is an annual plant, which means, once it flowers, it is a sign that the plant is towards the end of its productive life. It is at this point that the basil plant will stop producing delicious leaves, and concentrate on sending out delicate white and purple flowers.

Why Does Basil Flower?

It is simply a matter of evolution and survival.

Being an annual plant, the basil plant must flower to ensure the continuation of its species beyond the current generation. First, it produces flowers, that then turn into fertile seeds.

The process of going into seed is sometimes referred to as ‘bolting’. When a basil bolts, it will have a sudden growth spurt and develop flowers and seeds. It is kind of like a last hurrah before it dies.

Usually, this will occur in late summer, once the weather begins to cool down.

There are a few other reasons that will trigger your basil to begin flowering. Let’s take a look at what these triggers are in the next section.

Water Stress

Water is the life source of many plants, basil included.

Basil is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in moisture levels, preferring to have some moisture than none at all. It is not drought tolerant in the slightest. If basil is allowed to dry out, even for a day, it is likely to bolt and cut short its tasty leaf production.

On the other end of the spectrum, basil can also become water stressed from overwatering – again causing it to bolt.

For us, this is one of the most challenging aspects of growing basil. It’s very much like a Goldilocks situation.

credit: tenor

How to Prevent Basil from Water Stress

But, basil tastes so good, it is worth the battle of trying to keep the water levels at just the right levels. And we have the perfect solution to prevent your basil from becoming water stressed.

We employ the soil moisture finger test. It is a simple and effective method for testing the moisture level in your basil’s soil. To test the moisture level of your soil, dig your finger about an inch deep into the top layer of soil. If the soil feels wet and sticks to your finger, there is sufficient moisture present. However, if it feels dry with little to no soil on your finger, it’s time to top up your basil with some water.


Changes in temperature are one of the key ways basil plants use as a guide to know when to begin the seeding phase.

Summer annuals usually begin to die off once the weather begins to cool down at the end of the season. Unfortunately, this is just one of nature’s cycles that you cannot prevent from occurring. Wouldn’t it be great to have an everlasting basil plant?

However, extremely high temperatures can also cause a basil plant to bolt. It is somewhat similar to when a basil experiences water stress. If not well watered, the extremely high temperatures will cause basil to think it is dehydrated and dying. And before it’s untimely demise, it will send out flowers to set seeds for the next season.

Suffice to say, it can be frustrating to see basil flowers show early in the summer production season.

How to Prevent Temperature Fluctuations

If you are a well-weathered gardener, you know mother nature will do what she does best and throw anything and everything at our gardens.

So how do you protect your basil from bolting into flowers?

Greenhouses offer gardeners some degree of control over both temperature and moisture levels. We say ‘some’ degree, because a greenhouse cannot keep out extremely high temperatures. But it will keep your basil plants moist, to prevent them from becoming dehydrated.

For those that don’t have access to a greenhouse, we recommend keeping your basil in containers or pots. This way, when unseasonably hot weather occurs, you can bring your plants indoors for temporary protection.

Basil Flowers Attract Bees

Other Tips to Stop Basil From Flowering

Here are a few other tips for prolonging the productive cycle of your basil plant.

Constantly Prune Basil Plants

Constant Pruning

To encourage your basil to continually grow tasty leaves, constantly harvest the leaves. Regular pruning of the stems is also important to prevent your basil from becoming leggy. We recommend trimming a third of your basil plants’ stems back to approximately 6 inches in length (15 centimeters) at a time.

Basil leaves are edible at all stages of their growth cycle.

The immature baby basil leaves are soft and tender with a milder flavor. They are delicious as a garnish or can be tossed in a salad to replace microgreens.

The more mature leaves have a stronger taste, with a prolific fragrance that we have come to love about basil. Like we said earlier, mature basil leaves are great for making pesto, or an important ingredient on top of a pizza.

Nip It!

Another method of delaying your basil plants’ flowering process is to promptly remove any flowers from the plant. The important word here is promptly. If you see any flower buds forming on your basil – NIP IT!

Pinch it off between your index finger and thumb immediately.

If you allow your basil plant to believe it is in the flowering cycle of its life, it is game over. The leaves will begin to lose their distinct taste.

For a quick tutorial on nipping basil flowers check out this video by Bonnie Plants

Growing Basil in Your Kitchen

One of the most effective ways to keep basil producing delicious edible leaves is to grow your basil indoors.

The ideal position would be on a kitchen window sill that gets plenty of light.

Why a kitchen window? The best way to prevent your basil from flowering is to watch it like a hawk. And the kitchen is one of the busiest rooms in the house. As soon as you see a flower on your basil, pinch it off. Plus, the kitchen has an easily accessible source of water to keep your basil hydrated and happy.

Why You Should Let Your Basil Flower

There are times when you may have been distracted, and it was too late to prevent your basil from bolting. It happens, and we’ve all been there, but all is not lost. Apart from looking dainty and beautiful, basil flowers have uses.

There’s Always Next Year

As nature intended, basil flowers will eventually produce fertile seeds that you can collect and use for next year.

In fact, we know many gardeners that have different batches of basil for different purposes. One batch will be for eating, while another crop of basil plants will solely be grown for harvesting the seeds. It ensures they have viable seeds and a continuous supply of basil year-on-year.

Basil Flowers are Edible

Did you know you can actually eat basil flowers? Basil truly is a versatile and wonderful plant. Basil flowers have the same flavor tones and fragrances as the leaves, only milder.

Like the immature basil leaves, the flowers make perfect garnishes on salads for a soft basil flavor infusion. Plus, they look great.

Some home gardeners also steep basil flowers for basil flower tea. Some flowers may become bitter when they are older, so it is best to taste test them before steeping your tea.

Bees Loves Basil Flowers

Basil flowers do what they do best – attract bees to your garden. Even though basil plants produce both male and female flowers, they still need bees to visit to pollinate the flowers.

Bees love basil flowers, and one can never have enough bees in their garden.

Basil Flowers Attract Bees

Frequently Asked Questions for What Happens When Basil Flowers?

In this section we tackle the odd questions that may crop up about basil flowers.

On a side note – if we don’t answer your question below, please reach out to us via our contact page and we;’ll be sure to respond as soon as we can. We’ll even feature your question in this FAQ section so other fellow gardeners can benefit.

Is Basil Still Good After It Flowers?

YES – basil is a versatile and edible plant, even after it flowers. It does not become toxic for consumption. However, the taste will develop into a milder flavor, when compared to before the flowering stage. As the plant focuses on flower and seed production, the flavor can also become bitter, and less tasty.

How To Harvest and Save Basil Seeds

Once the flowers have dried and turned brown, you can begin to harvest your basil seeds for next year.

We find it is easiest to cut the dried flower stems and move them to your garden bench top for an easier seed collection working space. You won’t have to crouch in awkward positions, and you won’t be exposed to difficult weather elements like wind.

To harvest the seeds, strip the stems of the basil flowers, and you’ll find little pockets of seeds. Simply crush the dried pockets and little black seeds will fall out.

Collect and store in a cool dry place over the winter, ready to be planted for next year.

Final Thoughts on What Happens When Basil Flowers

Basil is one of our favorite parts of our edible garden. They are versatile and packed full of flavor. We’ve detailed ways to prevent your basil from bolting into flowers. However, it isn’t the end of the world if your basil flowers, because they have many practical uses (including good eating and drinking).

Tell us how you prevent your basil from flowering in the comments below. Also send us pictures of your favorite homemade basil dishes – we’re always up for some delicious food pics!