Growing and Harvesting Basil So it Produces All Season Long 45


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Years ago an old farmer told my young boys that when they started dating, a big bunch of sweet basil in the car would win a girl’s heart. Now, I don’t know about that, but growing and harvesting basil is one of my favorite summer garden activities. The fragrance definitely makes me happy!

Sweet basil is a culinary herb used frequently in Italian cooking and is the base for our favorite pesto. It’s not the only type of basil, though. There are dozens of different cultivars to choose from. Some are purple, some are ruffled, and some, like Thai basil, are favored for specific cuisines.

Growing basil means choosing from a wide variety of cultivars.

Basil is one of those wonderful garden plants that just keeps on giving. Unlike radishes and beets that are done once you harvest them, basil plants provide their pungent goodness for months if you treat them right. Harvesting basil so that it produces all summer long is easy.

Growing basil

Basil likes warm weather, heat, and well-drained soil. Direct sow seeds after frost, once the ground has warmed. Trust me; trying to get a jump on it by planting too soon will just waste seeds. If you opt to start seedlings for transplanting, a heat mat to increase the soil temperature will greatly improve your odds. Water deeply and regularly, and side dress with compost or well aged manure.

Harvesting basil

Harvesting basil

Harvest basil regularly. To do so, simply use scissors to prune 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.

Regular harvesting inhibits flower production and so the plant will continue to produce leaves. If the plant is allowed to flower, it will put energy into trying to regenerate itself by making seeds. If you see flower heads beginning to form, pinch them off.

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

Besides girls and pesto and Italian food, here’s another reason to grow basil: Bees.

Bees love basil

While we humans love growing basil for its pungent leaves, the bees love it for the flowers. Trouble is, in order to maintain a continuous harvest of sweet basil leaves all summer long, the flower heads need to be removed. Allowed to flower, the plants will go to seed and stop producing those fresh lovely leaves.

Luckily, there’s an easy solution. Plant several extra basil plants. Once you’ve harvested the first batch of leaves, allow a few plants to go into flowering mode. The bees will appreciate it, and you can continue harvesting leaves from the plants you’ve designated as “yours.”
Harvesting basil: Save seeds for next year

Saving basil seeds

I’ve had good success with saving and replanting basil seeds. If you want to gather seeds, choose one basil plant as your seed producer. Let it flower and watch as those flower heads turn to seeds. Allow the seed to brown on the plant. If wet weather threatens, you’ll want to clip them and bring them inside to dry. Pull the dry seed pods from the stem. Roll dry pods around in the palm of your hand to remove the small black seeds.

Using basil

I use fresh basil all summer long snipped into in salads, wraps, sandwiches, and for flavoring soups and pasta. By far, though, our favorite way to use it is to make pesto. We spread pesto as a base for wraps, on egg salad sandwiches, and of course, in pasta dishes. I freeze pesto in small glass jars for use all through the winter months. I love adding spoonfuls of it to soup! My pesto recipe is here.

20+ Ways to Use Basil (that are NOT pesto)

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45 thoughts on “Growing and Harvesting Basil So it Produces 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: http://bit.ly/SSHdYv 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! 😉

    • Errica

      Flea beetles (leaves lacy looking damage) are destroying all my basil. I started dusting them with DE, but I just read its harmful to bees. so..

  • Donna Lorusso

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

  • Rkwalks

    I use strawberries and basil in 2nd ferment of my kombucha
    fastastic flavor of summer!

  • Nada

    You didn’t mention how many times should we water the plant?

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      Just as much as is necessary to keep it from completely drying out.

  • -D Pettit

    I make basil jelly. Very nice on crackers and over cream cheese