Basil – tasty, aromatic, and sadly, pretty sensitive to all kinds of things. While basil’s easy enough to grow in your own indoor herb garden, it can start wilting if its environment changes a little bit. You may well be growing this wonderful crop to use in all sorts of dishes – but do you necessarily know how to harvest basil without killing the plant?
Harvesting basil without killing the base plant is a delicate art, but you only really need to pinch from the top. If you’re using a lot of basil, however, you may need to scale the plant down a bit further towards the base.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can make the most of basil in your dishes without letting the plant go to waste further down the line.
How to harvest basil and keep it growing
Harvesting basil for a quick sprig of garnish or flavor is easy – just carefully pinch a couple of leaves towards the top of your plant. These leaves should meet the stem.
Pinching at the top means you’re giving your basil a chance to regrow leaves. If you pinch from the bottom, you’ll leave your plant slightly leggy.
What if you need to harvest more basil than just a few leaves? You’re going to need to keep your basil’s health and survival in mind.
Firstly, you can trim stems off outright, going from top to bottom. Arm yourself with a small pair of pruners or scissors and carefully cut up to a quarter off where the leaves meet the central stem.
Go careful here – try and snip all the way around for a symmetrical look across the plant, and don’t cut down more than a quarter off the main height. Your basil should continue producing new growth (including those tasty leaves) from here on out.
Should I cut from the top or the bottom of my basil plant?
I’ve met basil growers who claim clipping from the bottom is best, but this really isn’t’t the case if you want to keep your herb growing for months to come. Everyone I’ve met who cut from bottom-up ended up with leggy, scraggly plants that died soon after. Always trim or pinch from the top.
When is it best to harvest basil?
There’s no particular month when it’s best to harvest basil, instead, look at the height of your plant. Does it measure more than six inches? It’s probably time to start harvesting.
If you’re really unsure how to pick basil based on height, count its leaves. A basil plant that’s ready for harvesting should have at least six leaves to a stem, and you can easily pick these off without causing damage.
Your basil is probably going to be good for harvest once it has eight leaf pairs. It’ll normally be good to pick leaves off around two months after you plant it. Do so at the start of the spring, and you’ll have a healthy plant to harvest from heading into the heart of the growing season.
A word of warning, don’t count smaller ‘baby’ leaves on your basil plant in this total. You could end up stunting your plant if you pinch leaves off too early.
How to harvest basil and not kill it
If you’re a basil fanatic like me, you’ll want to keep this plant growing nice and strong long after you start picking its leaves. To do so, keep an eye – again – on height.
To stop basil from growing too leggy and to keep it nice and strong, it’s a good idea to start trimming it down when it reaches a maximum of eight inches tall. Trim it down by up to a quarter, and no more.
When you start noticing gaps between leaves and branches getting wider, it’s time to start trimming your leaves back. You can also trim some stems down if you wish.
Doing this won’t harm the plant long-term. In fact, trimming and pinching at this point can actually help encourage basil to start producing healthy leaves and shoots again.
The aim of this is to keep your basil as dense as possible. You want your plant to start growing thick bushels of leaves and stems. If it grows too leggy, it’s at risk of falling over!
A thick basil plant will support itself well, and you’ll be able to keep harvesting tasty leaves for salads and pasta dishes.
The golden rule of basil harvesting – if you want to keep growing the plant – is to ensure a few leaves are sitting at the bottom of the plant. Provided you don’t trim your plant completely bare, you’re safe to harvest it and keep it growing for time to come.
Harvesting flowers on basil
When learning how to harvest a basil plant, it’s good practice to keep an eye out for flowers. Once the plant starts flowering, it’s at risk of going to seed, and therefore stopping growing any further.
You may even want to trim flowers off a basil plant to prevent changes to taste! I haven’t experienced the taste of a flowering basil plant, but I’ll take the word from the experts I’ve asked. Flowering basil reportedly tastes much more bitter than what you might expect.
Flower buds will normally start appearing on your basil towards the middle of summer. It’s best to pop these off by hand as soon as you can. As long as flower buds are growing, leaf and stem growth will cease.
There’s science behind this! Your basil will be so busy growing flowers it’ll stop growing stems and leaves. It’s these parts you’ll need to harvest, so for once, you should prevent flowers from growing at all costs. They might look nice, but they’re not particularly useful!
When will basil stop growing?
Basil stops growing as soon as the cold weather starts to set in. It’s nice to think that basil will just keep on growing, especially if you have a nice pot and grow light set up indoors. Sadly, it’s an annual herb, which means you’ll need to prepare it for next year as the fall approaches.
There’s a small chance that your basil might endure a warmer winter, but that really depends on where you live and how you’re growing your plant.
The best thing you can really do from here, therefore, is to cut back your basil as much as you can in the middle of September. Harvest the stem – it’s done growing for another year.
Will basil keep growing back if I trim it?
Basil will certainly keep growing if you’re careful about how and when you pinch and trim. Always work from the top downwards, and try not to let it grow more than six adult leaves, or taller than eight inches.
At these points, the plant may start to grow flowers. Keep a close eye on this occurring towards the warmer months in the middle of summer, as the taste of your plant will likely start changing if you leave them to persist.
Is basil hard to trim?
While basil can be a sensitive beast as far as growing and thriving are concerned, it’s relatively simple to keep it trimmed down and growing back across the season to come. While growing herbs like lavender indoors can be fairly straightforward, basil can sometimes need a bit of TLC.
Just make sure you trim from the top, and don’t let it grow too leggy or too sparse. Following these rules, there’s no reason why you can’t expect a tasty clutch year after year.
You won’t kill basil purely by trimming or pinching it – but follow my guide, and you’ll keep it thriving.