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In the Garden

How to Harvest Basil for Maximum Yields

August 3, 2015
This is what the top of a basil plant looks like several days after removing the top set of leaves-- new growth is coming in

A couple of weeks ago we covered the basics of keeping a potted basil plant alive. Let’s dig in one step deeper. We don’t just want our basil to live, do we? We want it to thrive! Preferably, we’d like it to furnish us with countless verdant leaves with which to garnish our caprese salads and pizzas all summer long. These are attainable goals! It only takes a little know-how and a couple of minutes of maintenance to keep your basil productive well into the depths of summer.

The number one step you can take to encourage your basil to grow faster and more vigorously is… drumroll please…

Pruning Basil

Harvest it! It may seem counter-intuitive, but harvesting your basil actually encourages it to produce more new growth. So don’t be afraid to pluck a couple of leaves for your sandwich just because your plant isn’t all that big yet. The key is to harvest from the top. You can and should intentionally pluck off the very top set of tiny leaves when you first buy your basil plant to get a jump start on this process.

Top Leaves

Picking off the top leaves of your plant will encourage it to bush out, sending out additional side stems with new sets of leaves, rather than getting all tall and spindly.

New Leaves on Pruned Basil



If it’s particularly hot or late in the season, you may notice your plant starting to put out pretty little flower spikes. These signal death for your basil plant.

Basil Flowers

Thai Basil Flowers

Basil is an annual, meaning it dies after it has completed its reproductive cycle, and the act of flowering is your basil plant telling you it’s wrapping up its time here on earth. You can halt this cycle, however, by plucking off the flowers (which are totally edible, and can replace basil leaves in many recipes). Better yet, whack off the entire top third of your plant, whizz it up into pesto, and watch as your plant miraculously regrows before your eyes.

New Basil Shoots

In the Garden

How to Grow Basil: A Beginner’s Guide

July 1, 2015

Basil is the quintessential beginning gardener’s herb. It seems so accessible, sitting pretty in its pot outside your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. But who among us isn’t guilty of snagging a bushy pot of happy-looking basil from the supermarket on a whim, only to find it limping along, close to death, only a week or two later? If that sounds like you, don’t be discouraged! I’m going to walk you through it.

The Basics

If at all possible, try to grow your plant outside. A sunny, south-facing window will do in a pinch, but basil really prefers the outdoor air and unfettered access to sunlight. It needs a lot of light to thrive, so make sure you choose a spot that gets all day sun.

If your basil plant came in a decently sized container you may be okay leaving it in that pot, but it’s certainly not going to complain if you give it a little more room to spread its legs. A 10 to 14-inch diameter pot will be more than enough room for a single basil plant. Alternatively, if you have a garden patch, you can plop it straight into the ground.

Don’t go crazy on the water. Basil likes to dry out in between waterings. It’s a fairly drought-tolerant plant, and many a wilted, dying basil plant has actually been the victim of overwatering.

Feed it! You’re not very productive at work if you haven’t eaten in a while are you? So why expect your basil to go all season long without being fed? Find yourself an organic fertilizer– whether compost, worm castings, or one of the pre-mixed dried or liquid versions at your local nursery (look for one that says “all-purpose”), and give your plant a little spruce once a month according to the package instructions.

Follow those simple steps and your basil should be one happy camper.

Just don’t expect it to live forever. After all, basil is an annual. Eventually it’s gonna croak on you, but that’s okay because by the time your basil is on its way out, arugula, and mustards, and all the other wonderful fall and winter greens are on their way in. That’s the beauty of seasonality, y’all.