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How to Harvest Basil All Season Without Killing It

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Photo: j.chizhe (Shutterstock)

Although fresh basil is now available in supermarkets year-round, it’s not the same as being able to go into your own backyard (or turn to the planter on your windowsill) and picking a few leaves when you need them. But it’s one thing to clear a stem or two for some cocktails: What about picking a majority of the plant to make pesto?

Basil’s growing season is already limited to summer weather, so you may be concerned about taking too many of your plants’ leaves early on and being left with nothing come July and August. But fear not: Harvesting the leaves of a basil plant is actually important for its growth. Here’s what to know.

How (and when) to harvest basil

Although there’s no specific day or month marking the beginning of basil season, you’ll notice that once the temperatures start hitting 80°F on a regular basis, your plant will start—in the words of the Famers’ Almanac—“leafing out.” And when it gets to be around six to eight inches tall, it’s time to start harvesting the leaves.

If you’re planning to use the basil leaves right away—like as you’re cooking a meal—go ahead and pick them when you need them. But if you’re going to store the basil to use later, it’s best to pick the leaves first thing in the morning when they are plump and at their juiciest.

How to ensure you have fresh basil all season

You may be worried that if you pick all (or most) of the leaves off your basil plant early in the summer, you’ll run out quickly. But in reality, the exact opposite is true, according to the Famers’ Almanac: Regularly picking the leaves off your basil plant only encourages it to grow.

Think of harvesting basil leaves as part of its regular maintenance in the summer, along with making sure it’s getting enough water and sunlight. In fact, you should pick the leaves regularly, even if you don’t plan on using them right away (in which case, freeze them).


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