CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Shapes of an indoor herb garden

Posted by: John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension 

I feel that the positive benefits and entertainment value that come with experimenting and growing plants indoors far outweigh any negatives. An indoor garden can grow 365 days/year, it can provide fresh herbs at a moment’s notice, and can transform (in my case) a drab apartment setting into something a little more lively. Lately I have been experimenting with pruning and pinching indoor Basil with the goal of boosting my plants’ productivity. What I’ve learned is that I have a lot to learn.

Indoor plants will often grow tall and spindly in search of light; pruning can discourage this type of growth and encourage a plant to grow bushier rather than taller (something ideal, imo, in this situation). This type of pruning can be accomplished by pinching off plant growth above a node, the location where leaves and branches attach to a stem. I have been actively removing the smallest leaves and apical, upward most, growth to shape my indoor Basil.

Basil Pruning - past, present, and future?

In the image above: I’ve labeled a node; the red X’s mark where I pinched off new growth at nodes some weeks ago and the plant branched outward; the purple arrows are locations where I might pinch off the plant again in the future.

This method has been very effective in encouraging the plants to branch out. But, I didn’t think about the structure of the plants before I started. I didn’t have an image in mind or an overarching strategy, I just pinched away apical growth here and there. The Basil, growing upwards, hardly able to support itself in the first place, has become quite top heavy due to my interference.

One day, one of the plants fell over (following image). I decided to just leave it, until I needed to use some Basil. Time went by and when I looked again I was surprised to see how the plant had adjusted to its horizontal orientation.

A fallen Basil plant adjusting to its orientation.
The Basil has begun to grow up the spider plant and is now growing rapidly at a node in the middle of the bridge it has made. I’m not sure what to do with this fighter of a plant. I wonder how long the plant will be able to support itself without any extra help, might the stem-bridge collapse under the weight of new growth with time? In an odd sense, I'd feel bad if this plant bridge collapsed, and so I'll probably end up placing some supports below the node; after all, it was my careless shaping that caused this situation. It’s a small thing, but it will be fun to observe overtime, and in the end, I’ll have more Basil to harvest!

I would say, “don’t do exactly what I’ve done”. In the next image you can see that I’ve created a messy jungle of wild Basil growth, because I didn’t start with any idea for cultivating structure and just pinched off growth above nodes! I need to think in more of Bonsai manner.

An untidy tangle of Basil growth.
Second, I often held-off on pinching growth because I didn’t need to use any Basil in my cooking. And now, the upward most growth is too close for my comfort to its light source; it's a problem. But I am still learning, and next time I'll have little better idea for where and how to start.

Final Thoughts:
..And, I will say that I have had luck using a similar strategy with indoor Lavender, but that's a whole different story!
Indoor Lavender
More information on growing Lavender here:

If you are interested in indoor gardening, you may also appreciate these other posts in this indoor blog series: 

Best of luck in your gardening endeavors!

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