My basil plant has lost all the leaves 12-14 inches from the the bottom. The plant is looking leggy. I want to make it look bushier and short. Would it be safe to prune it by cutting it into half or 2/3rd?
It may be already too late or (just my opinion) not really important:
- From my experience, basil never (or very rarely) starts new sprouts if you cut branches down to the "dried wooden" part of the branches, unless there are arlready small green sprouts on it. It doesn't like to be the case on yours, so cutting it at half or 2/3 would probably just kill the plant.
- It would greatly help us if you would precise if it's an annual or perennial variety, and if you live in the northen hemisphere (winter) or southern (summer). If it's annual and it's winter where you live, your basil has not much time to live anyway. Unless you move it indoors, I managed to keep annual varieties through winter by moving them indoor (wait until after it gets cold to move it indoor, so there is a thermal shock that will cause the plant to stop blooming and start to grow again).
Not really important:
- this part is just my opinion, but the point in basil is more to be tasty than to have a balanced appearance, I would personnally don't bother much as long as the plant is healthy
What I suggest if it's perennial, or annual and it's summer where you live: start again:
- basil easily grow roots when you cut a branch (at a green part) and put it in water, usually just leaving your branch in a glass of water for some days/weeks will be enough.
- plant this new one and use Stephie's answer to shape your basil at a much earlier stage by pinching the top of the branches to stop their growth. Usually the branches will divide in two when you do this. Don't wait until the branches become woody before you cut them.
EDIT: since you commented on the details I wasn't sure, lasts recommendations:
- Don't cut all your branches to make them root in water, I haven't tried with all varieties of basil and never had perennial ones, nor in tropical climate, start with one fisrt to test. I can't guarantee it will work so don't put all your eggs in the same basket
- don't put too much water, just a small part of the bottom of the stem needs to be in the water, or else the stem may rot
- remove the leaves at the bottom of the stem, that would be under water
- change the water every couple of days
- plant it in earth as soon as you see roots growing (don't let it in water more than necessary, the stem may start to rot)
- Good luck!
I would suggest a slightly different approach:
Make cuttings from the top(s), that way you will get smaller and compact plants (that you can then prune before they get long and leggy) and with a bit of luck see new growth from the bottom of the old one as well. And it won’t matter if not.
For shaping, note that basil will always favor the tops / ends of the branches, so keep that in mind when harvesting and pruning.
However, basil is an annual, which means at some point it will start to bloom, set seed and die not long afterwards. I am not sure (because the photo is a bit blurry), but it seems that the tops have flower buds already. So you no matter how much effort you put into pruning and shaping, it will be somewhat temporary.
Even for perennial basils, taking cuttings is a suitable method to rejuvenate plants and have the option to shape them as they grow.