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How to Harvest Basil Season by Season

How to harvest basil so your plants will give much longer.

When you know how to harvest basil, your plants will produce for a long time. Unfortunately, many new gardeners pick basil leaves the wrong way. And that can lead to rapid plant decline.

Learn how to harvest basil like this batch

This problem happens when gardeners pluck out random basil leaves. Plus, it can be compounded if you harvest too much from a plant at one time.  The reality is: when basil is harvested like this, the plants may decline fast and give up the ghost early in the season.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to harvest basil the right way. And we’ve got details and photos to help you maximize your basil harvest easily!

How to harvest basil when your plants are young:

When your basil plants are young, picking them by “tipping” is ideal. That’s because tip buds of a branch excrete a hormone that tells all the little buds on that branch what to do. So, if you take out that bud by tipping, the little lateral buds at the base of each leaf are released from hormonal shackles. And that allows those buds open up. When they open and grow, they form new shoots and leaves.

Tip basil to harvest it young

So this is a good way to get plants like basil to keep growing for us even as we harvest from them.

In fact, within about a week 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. That means you’ll have new shoots to tip harvest soon. Plus, the plant  should stay fairly compact and very bushy. So you’ll be able to repeat the process over and over again throughout the season.

But, each time you pinch out a tip, try not to pinch below the point where you pinched last time. Or at least don’t do this until much later in the growing season. We’ll get into that a little later.

How frequently can you harvest basil?

It is important that you do repeat the pinching back process regularly. That’s because tip buds on basil will eventually try to become flower buds. And once your new lateral buds begin to grow into shoots, some will try to become flower buds and leader buds. So they should be nipped!

Plus, if the plant begins to flower and go to seed, it will likely lose flavor. Moreover, it may 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 growing strong longer.

What if your basil’s big leaves are shading the interior?

Usually it isn’t ideal to pluck a lot of leaves individually from basil. However, if your plant does have lots of big, individual lateral leaves. And if those leaves are shading out the interior of the plant, you might harvest a few of these big leaves.

But don’t take all of them. That’s because plucking too many single leaves can put a significant drain on the plant and cause it to decline rapidly.

This kind of big leaf shading happens a lot with lettuce leaf basil.

How to harvest basil late in the season:

Basil plants will decline rapidly as shorter days and cooler nights of fall arrive. And, as they decline, their stems become more woody. And, their older leaves begin to yellow and fall off. Plus, if basil gets too cold, the leaves will blacken.

Before plants start declining, stop pinching your basil and be brutal with your harvests.  This means it’s time to cut down the remaining plant to harvest everything. That’s because basil is an annual plant in most areas. And even if you’re growing your summer basil in a pot, it isn’t likely to thrive indoors in the winter. In fact, it’s more likely to bring pests or disease inside so they can thrive on your houseplants.

Is it possible to grow basil indoors in winter?

It is possible to grow basil indoors in winter. However, rather than bring your tired, possibly buggy outdoor summer basil plants indoors for winter, try starting new basil seeds under grow lights specifically for your winter, indoor harvests. And be sure to harvest them by pinching!

Now that you’ve harvested your basil…

Try our dairy-free rosemary basil pesto recipe.  It’s great fresh or preserved.

Do know tipping is a terrible way to prune many plants!

Tipping is a great way to prune basil for maximum harvests. And it can work well for many other herbs, annuals, and some perennials.

But cutting many other plants this way isn’t really ideal. And it can ruin them fast.

If you’d like to learn more about pruning, sign up for the Garden Mentors Gardening Academy!

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