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Basil – Harvested Correctly, this Crop will Give & Give

August 05, 2011
basil pinch example

Pinch your basil just above a pair of leaves; at the base of each leaf is a tiny bud — can you see it? Take care not to damage the little buds, but also try to pinch out the stem just above them as close as you can.

Know how to harvest basil?

Done right, basil plants will produce for a long time. Picked the wrong way, these tasty herbs will give up the ghost quickly. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to do it right. Here’s how:

Most of the time, I’m going to suggest you don’t “top” your plants. However, in the case of some perennials and many annuals, taking out the tip buds can be a good thing.

The tip bud of a branch excretes a hormone that tells all the little buds on that branch what to do. If you take out that bud by tipping, those little lateral buds at the base of each leaf are released from hormonal shackles. And, those buds open up and form new shoots and leaves. This is a good trick — done right — to get plants like basil to keep growing for us even as we harvest from them.

It is NOT a good method for pruning trees and shrubs — but that’s a longer explanation for another post.

Tipped Basil Sample

Basil just after tipping; the tiny buds will soon emerge into new shoots.

Within a week or so — depending on weather, watering, nutrients, etc… — after you take out tip shoots from your basil, the buds just below the point where you harvested will open up and form new shoots. The plant will stay fairly compact and very bushy. And, you’ll be able to repeat the process over and over again throughout the season. (The next time you pinch, try not to pinch below the point where you pinched last time.)

And, it’s important that you do repeat the process regularly. Tip buds on basil will eventually try to become flower buds. If the plant begins to flower and go to seed, it will lose flavor, potentially become woody and have less resilience for forming new, tasty tender shoots. However, if you pinch out those tip buds even if they’re showing signs of becoming a flower, you can keep that delicious growing cycle going.

If your plant does have lots of really big lateral leaves that are shading out the interior of the plant, you might harvest a few of these, but don’t take all of them. Removing just leaves and removing a lot of them can put a significant drain on the plant and cause it to decline rapidly.

If pinching regularly means you’re harvesting more basil than you can eat right away, make a batch of pesto to freeze for winter. Or, freeze fresh leaves in a re-sealable bag. You can add to the bag throughout the growing season. Then, in winter, when you’re making a marinara or something else that calls for cooked basil, grab a handful and crunch it into your pot. Don’t defrost it first; its easier to work with frozen. And, yes, basil tastes much better frozen than dried. Unfortunately, it doesn’t keep its beautiful color in the freezer, so best to use it in cooked foods.

Oh, and if you’ve never had a green thumb before, this kind of pinching will make you a veteran green thumb in no time — pretty much guaranteed!

1 Comment

  1. [...] basil by pinching out the tips to encourage new growth is ideal during the spring and summer — while the plants are putting [...]

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