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…
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.
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.
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 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.