Nothing gets me more excited for summer than the smell of fresh basil. This versatile herb is one of my favorites and is incredibly easy to grow.
One of the great things about basil is that it grows back after you cut it. If pruned properly, basil can grow to be big and bushy, supplying you with basil all summer long!
I’ll be going over the best way to harvest and prune basil so that it grows into the full bushy plant that you’re looking for. I’ll also talk about what to do if your basil starts to flower.
How to cut basil so it regrows
Basil is very easy to harvest and can be done in two different ways depending on how much you need. But careful not to cut it the wrong way, too close to the base level, or you’ll stunt your plant’s growth significantly!
If you only need a small amount of basil, then you can simply pull a few leaves off of the plant with your fingers. Take special care to pinch the leaf at the base where it meets the plant. You don’t want to accidentally tear the leaf or the stem.
If you’re looking to harvest a lot of basil at one time, then it’s more time efficient to trim whole stems off with a pair of garden shears or sharp scissors.
Cut your stems right above the nodes. This is the place where two leaves are growing from the stem.
Once you’ve harvested a good bunch of basil, store it in a glass of water until you’re ready to use it. This will keep it from wilting.
Basil is not cold-tolerant at all, so don’t store it in the refrigerator. This will cause it to turn brown.
When to harvest basil
As soon as your basil reaches 6 inches in height, it’s ready to be harvested. As I just mentioned, basil is not cold tolerant so, if you’re growing it outside, it won’t be ready to harvest until summer, depending on what agricultural zone you live in.
For most people, this means that their basil will be ready for harvest by May or June. Because basil grows back so quickly, it will keep on growing right up until the first frost kills it.
In the peak of the summer, I find that I can harvest my basil plants once a week, sometimes more. Basil can be pretty abundant so one plant may be more than enough for your household needs.
How to prune basil
Pruning basil is very similar to how you harvest it, as I described above. Make sure you have a good sharp pair of shears and something to put the pruned basil stems in for later.
Trim back just the top 2 inches of your basil to start. You don’t want to overdo it with the pruning and accidentally trim too much.
Just like with harvesting, cut the stems right above where two leaves are growing from the stem. This point is called the node.
Always trim from the top as the larger bottom leaves are the ones doing most of the photosynthesizing and producing energy for your plants. You don’t want to accidentally stunt your plants’ growth.
I’ve mentioned this in our article on leggy basil but I’ll mention it here too; anywhere that you trim back your basil plant, two new shoots should start to grow back in that place. This ultimately doubles the amount of basil you had growing before.
Whatever you prune from your plant is still good and edible so don’t let it go to waste! If you have more basil than you can eat, then consider processing it into a pesto. Pesto is a great way to use up a ton of basil and it stores well in the freezer too.
Sometimes, young basil can start growing leggy and not produce the big bushy plant that you’re looking for.
You’ll know that your basil is leggy when its stems start getting long but are also really skinny. Young seedlings will usually start to grow leggy because they’re not getting enough light and are trying to stretch to reach what little light is available.
Leggy plants are not ideal because their long skinny stems are not as strong and are more prone to bend and break from either the weight of their foliage or from something like a strong weather event.
Once you’ve moved your leggy basil into an area with better light, pruning back the leggy stems will help to encourage your plant to grow back big and bushy instead.
We have a whole article on how to prevent and take care of leggy basil which you can check out here.
Can you harvest basil after it flowers?
Once your basil starts to flower, it’s a sign that the end of its life is near. Basil will begin to set flowers to create seeds and reproduce before it dies.
Once the flowers start to grow, the plant will put most of its energy into flower and seed production and may stop sending up new shoots as you harvest or prune the plant.
To help prolong your basil’s lifespan, pinch or trim off the flower buds to encourage the plant to put more energy back toward leaf and shoot production.
Even if your basil plant has flowers, the leaves are still harvestable and edible. So, don’t give up on your basil even if you do see flowers starting to form.
So there you have it! Yes, basil will certainly grow back once you cut it. That’s one of the things that makes it so great!
Just make sure not to cut back any of the lower leaves so that your plant can still photosynthesize and produce energy. And if you see any flowers start to form, cut those off too! This will prolong the life of your basil plant and keep it from going to seed.
Lastly, make sure you save anything that you trim off from your basil because it’s all still edible! There’s nothing better than a good summer pesto.