How to Harvest Basil to Keep it Producing All Season Long 40

Basil is one of those wonderful garden plants that just keeps coming. Unlike radishes and beets that are done once you harvest them, basil plants provide their pungent goodness for months if you can stay on top of them. Here’s how to harvest basil to keep it producing all summer long!

Basil is easy to grow in the garden and if you harvest basil right, it will continue to provide fresh leaves for seasoning (and pesto!) for months at a time.

How to harvest basil:

Basil should be harvested regularly to prevent flowering; trim the plants as soon as you see flower heads start to form. To do so, simply use scissors to trim off the upper leaf clusters. Make your cut close to the set of leaves below. Often, you’ll need to cut more than one leaf cluster, and that’s okay. Just be sure to snip right above the set of leaves you’re planning to leave on the plant. New growth will sprout from that point so you can continue to harvest throughout the season.

You’ll want to make sure to leave some green growth so that the plant can do its photosynthesis thing, but the plant will be noticeably smaller. Harvest basil every week or two. I have almost a dozen plants and these provide enough basil every time I harvest to make two batches of pesto – one to eat fresh, one for the freezer.

These harvesting rules apply for growing basil indoors, too, though an indoor basil plant might not need to be trimmed as frequently.

And now here I go contradicting myself. Kind of. Bees LOVE basil, but if you cut off all the flowering heads, they’ll never get to enjoy it. Here’s how to grow basil for you and the bees. 

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40 thoughts on “How to Harvest Basil to Keep it Producing All Season Long

  • Betsy Lane

    I also make pesto for the freezer–it keeps perfectly all year, until the next year’s basil is ready. I also make cilantro pesto, just substituting cilantro leaves for basil leaves. Both versions are delicious!!!

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      My husband would love cilantro pesto.

    • Bryan P

      Love cilantro pesto. Don’t forget garlic scape pesto, too.

  • Liana

    I have the hardest time growing basil though I see it growing like a weed elsewhere. Too high and wet?

    • Vickie

      My daughter grows amazing basil plants in a pot and usually it gets ignored because she has a 2 and 3 year old. Oh and the 2 year old is rough on that plant and it is just thriving away and huge! I have mine in the ground and most of the time, if it doesn’t get rain it won’t get water unless I happen to think about it and it is huge. For me I think they are like geraniums they like to be ignored, left alone and a minimum of water. Can’t be ignored forever of course but many herbs will grow in poor soil and in the hottest sun with a minimum of water.

      • Kris Bordessa Post author

        They do seem to do well in hot, harsh conditions!

  • Jane Boursaw

    I should really make pesto. I love love love basil, but mostly just because I love the lovely aroma.

  • Melanie Haiken

    Wow, your basil looks so healthy and fresh; mine’s a tad wilted in the heat! My favorite thing is a caprese salad with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella — as soon as my tomatoes fruit I’ll be eating it all summer long!

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      Heat is not something we’ve had to deal with yet this summer!

  • sarah henry

    I’m with Melanie, above, love basil in a Caprese salad and we’re big fans of putting pesto on everything over here: pasta, potatoes, bread.

    Just had some Thai basil fried in a rice bowl dish that was divine.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      My son came in the other day with pesto, kalamata olives, and feta on toast. Good taste, that boy.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      We once stopped at a farm stand and the old guy there suggested that when my boys got to dating age they only had to remember to tuck a bouquet of basil in the back seat and their dates would fall in love. 😉

  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi

    My basil seems to go from barely sprouted to bolting. SO FRUSTRATING. I’m trying a different varietal this year-lettuce leaf basil. I’m hoping I’ll have better luck with it. It’s supposed to be great for pesto.

  • Kathy

    Thats absolutely one way to go about it! I tend to find that successive planting works better for me – Id much rather have a little bit all the time than huge dumps of basil that I then HAVE to make pesto out of. Ive got this great infographic on successive planting here: Happy Growing!

  • Yaya

    I love to take a couple basil leaves, roll them and take my kitchen shears and cut thin strips and then put them in a salad or on a sandwich. It just takes it up a notch. 

  • Janet

    I live in Utah. It’s hot and dry. Tried growing basil in the ground, in pots and in the house. It either goes to seed and/or the leaves get skinny and sparse. Does it like hot, sun, cool, shade? Where are you growing it? If I try again, I will follow your pruning suggestions.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      I find that it likes warm/hot summers but steady moisture. Most all of my basil these days come as volunteers from plants I’ve let go to seed. I’m growing in Hawaii, but it’s done really well for me in hot northern California summers, too.

  • Allison

     Hi! Im fairly new to gardening and i found your article helpful. Im just wondering why do you want to harvest your basil before it starts flowering? Or what happens if it flowers ? 

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      You use basil for its leaves. When it starts to flower, the plant puts less energy into making leaves. The bees like the flowers, though.

  • victor

    i usually freeze most of mine since it lasts so long in the freezer — i’ve heard a year though it never lasts in my house.

  • Paula

    For the area below where you pinch off – do you ever harvest that too? Or just leave it? Harvest single leaves? Thanks

    • Mary

      I just cut it right above any two leaves and you don’t take those. Enjoy!

  • Elicia

    I have several beautiful basil plants growing. My family loves pesto but I’ve never made it. Does anyone have a good pesto recipe or a link to a good recipe? Thanks :0)

    • Bev

      I mix basil, garlic, olive oil process and coarse shreds of parmsean at end. Put in ice cube trays, freeze and knock them out in baggie.

  • mary

    I have basil growing in a glass jar on the window sill, just add water daily. I also like adding lots of it to salmon pasta salad.

  • Anne

    Basil is one of my favourites. I grow it every year by sprinkling seeds around the garden, near the tomato transplants. They do well and I harvest often to make “basil boats” (an appetizer). For winter use, I use scissors to cut leaves directly into ice-cube trays, top up with water, freeze, then double bag. So easy and delicious in spaghetti sauce, just like fresh-from-the-garden. Thanks for sharing the proper way to take cuttings.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      Your bugs have good taste! 😉

  • Donna Lorusso

    I have so much basil, that I cannot possible eat it all. how can I keep basil for winter months?