Monday, January 9, 2012

Nip it in the bud

While I was happily admiring the basil and enjoying its beautiful scent, Melanie suggested that instead of just daydreaming may be I should nip off the buds. Not questioning her divine knowledge of cause, but “Why?” I asked. She explained it was her understanding that it would give us a bigger, longer lasting, better tasting plant. It is our experience that when plants used for their leaf bolt to flower and then seed they become quite bitter tasting, tall and lanky. But would nipping off the flowering buds actually stop this from happening? I wondered. Again not at all questioning Melanie’s wisdom, but purely for the purpose of expanding it, I did a bit of web research.

What I found was inconclusive. It does appear to be common knowledge that nipping buds prevents/delays bolting, but there are a number of comments online from gardeners who have found this to not be true. What’s been your experience?

Out of interest, from my research I also discovered that the bitterness produced comes from the production of bitter alkaloids. The theory being that this is the plant attempting to protect its flowers, seed and fruit from pests. I must admit it works on me. Lettuces that do this in my garden do tend to get left alone. Apparently not all plants do it i.e spinach. So far I haven’t noticed any undesirable change in flavour of our basil so hopefully basil is also one of them.


  1. I was talking to a friend about this just yesterday. I admit I can't tell the difference in flavour either.

  2. 500m2 I assume you are talking about not noticing a change in the flavour of basil? So basil is probably not a good example. Do you think nipping the buds off lettuce say works?

  3. I don't think nipping the bud works for lettuces, but it does work for lots of things. When you pick the central head of a broccoli, for example, you are nipping the bud! It goes on to try flowering again with lots of side shoots, and if you harvest them too, it keeps trying. I take the top of basil when it is quite young to encourage it to branch out. And I take the flowers off as soon as they appear - partly because it's one of the nice bits of gardening, to wander around appreciating smells.

  4. I love the smell on my hands after I've nipped the buds on the basil plants.

  5. Linda & Frogdancer I know what you both mean about appreciating the smells of the garden. Since becoming a gardener when I now walk into any garden or come across a plant of interest I mindlessly just reach out, rubber a leaf between my fingers then put it to my nose.

    That's a good example Linda, I concur, regularly picky broccoli heads indeed extends the harvest.

  6. I can't tell the flavour difference with basil either. What I do find is that taking the top couple of leaves with the flower buds really helps to encourage branching in basil and the bushes definitely become bushier. Even if the plant isn't flowering I harvest the tops of stems rather than individual leaves. Lettuces on the other hand when they turn they turn and there isn't really anything that can be done. I find that most plants are pretty much done with they flower, basil and broccoli being the most obvious exceptions.


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