Harvesting Basil

I’m sure you’ve heard a million times to pinch the flowers off the basil plant. NO!!!!!!! Stop! Never “pinch” a basil plant, especially not with your hands.  All you’re doing is causing the plant to become tall and spindly and get smaller and smaller leaves.

That said, here is the correct way to harvest your basil.

  1. Wait until your plant is nice and big before you start picking it. If  you pick it too soon, it will never recover. You must have a nice, sturdy plant before you pick it.
  2. Always use scissors or garden snips to pick your plant. Cut straight across, never on an angle. Don’t pick it with your hands!!
  3. Find a spot on the basil plant where the main stem meets a “v” with two other stems. Cut above the two stems. Never just cut leaves off, or branches not at a “v.” If you just start grabbing leaves off it, you’ll wreck it.
  4. Don’t cut just the flowers off. Cut lower on the stem so the plant bushes out and grows more leaves.
  5. If your plant has dried out or been stressed in the past, it may never recover. You might just want to buy a new plant and start again.

Here are some photos of the correct way to harvest basil. Click on any of them for an enlargement.

See the “v?” Cut above it and the two shoots will become nice big stems.

Note how you should use a snips, never your fingers.

Note how the two side stems grew into main stems and you can cut them next time, at a “v” higher up (not shown).

If your plant starts to flower, cut low on the plant. Don’t just cut the flower off!! In fact, I would count down to the second “v” and cut there, not at the top one that you see in the picture.

Your basil can get really huge. Our plants are well over three feet tall, and super bushy. If you click on the photo, you will get a close up and can see all the places I cut it before I cut most of the plant off, leaving just the bottom two stems.



4 thoughts on “Harvesting Basil

  1. Hi! I’m completely new to gardening, but would really like to start growing my own food this spring. My question is, you mentioned at the end of this post that, “before I cut most of the plant off, leaving just the bottom two stems.” — what does this mean? Does this mean that you cut ALL of the stems off the plant (above the last/bottom “V”?), except for only two stems? Are those two stems the true entirety of the plant that keeps regrowing? I apologize if that sounds like a stupid question, just want to clarify what I’m imagining. If I’ve got it right, how long would it take for the basil to regrow into a giant, bushy plant again? Thanks for the help!

    • Hi Amber,

      I’ll try to answer your question. You can cut the plant about four times before you get to the point where you want to cut it clear down to the bottom. Always cut the stem, never just pull off or cut leaves. The first time you pick it, you cut the main stem, about two “v”s down. Then two stems will grow out of that spot. Next time, you cut both of those stems about halfway down. You can cut one or two more times before the plant will start looking too tall and spindly. That’s when you cut the main stem down all the way to the bottom two branches. Just cut that thing down, don’t be shy. The remaining two branches will regrow. It should grow back pretty quickly each time, maybe a week or 10 days between trims.

      Remember, no matter how carefully you cut your plant, you won’t have any luck if you don’t take care of it. Basil likes full sun but it has to have moist roots or it will become stunted and bitter. Don’t let it dry out. But it’s also sensitive to root rot, so don’t let it get too wet if it’s in the shade. So again, full sun but keep the soil moist.

      Good luck 🙂

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